For maritime workers, maintenance and cure is an important law that offers protection in the event of an injury or illness regardless of how the accident happened and regardless of who is at fault. If you’re a maritime worker who was injured at sea, general maritime law mandates that you have the right to be compensated for maintenance: day-to-day living expenses, as well as a cure: medical expenses associated with the injury.
Maintenance in regard to maritime law is defined as the daily living allowance provided to an injured maritime worker. Injured seamen are allotted a certain amount of financial compensation until medical recovery is complete. As mentioned earlier, maintenance is provided to injured workers regardless if the employer was at fault for the injuries or not.
While some employers pay sufficient compensation when workers are injured, others are still paying amounts that are outdated and not enough for people to sustain their livelihoods. Typically, there should be enough compensation to cover basic needs such as food, clothing, transportation, shelter, and utilities. It’s important to note that maintenance only covers necessary living expenses. Therefore, compensation for things such as cable television, Internet, and other entertainment items are not included.
While maintenance provides financial compensation for daily living expenses, cure takes care of any medical expenses associated with injuries that happened to seamen while on the job. A seaman’s employer is typically required to pay any and all medical expenses associated with the injury. Common medical expenses include:
- Hospital and doctor bills
- Surgery expenses
- Medication expenses
- MRI and CT scan costs
- Medical equipment costs (wheelchairs, crutches, etc)
- Transportation expenses to and from medical appointments
The right to cure should last until the worker is fully recovered and physically able to return to work, if applicable, or after the doctor gives release forms. However, it’s important to note that in some cases, employers may try to rush this process in an attempt to get out of paying maintenance and cure benefits. For instance, if a worker has been out of work for several months, the employer may refer the worker to an Independent Medical Exam (IMI). The new IMI physician, unless told specifically by the employer what the worker’s job entails, may write up a release form stating that the seaman can return to work. Yet, without knowledge of exactly what the job entails, workers are often sent back to work prematurely, and within time, the injuries may become worse. You have the legal right to get a second medical opinion if your employer forces you to return to work based on an IMI report.
In some instances, seamen who are union members are offered a set, pre-determined maintenance rate. For example, if a worker is under a union contract that states that maintenance rates will be $800 per month, then that will be the rate no matter what. Keep in mind, however, that this rule only applies in certain areas of the country. You’ll need to contact an attorney experienced in maritime affairs to determine if your contract is under union maintenance rules.
In addition to injuries, maintenance and cure also cover seamen who develop disabling illnesses. The condition must have developed while working on a vessel. Compensation ends when the seamen get paperwork from a healthcare provider, stating the worker has improved as much as possible, also known as maximum medical improvement (MMI).
If an Employer Refuses to Pay Maintenance and Cure
In instances in which employers fail to pay for maintenance and cure, workers have the right to seek legal representation. If this happens, a settlement amount for the injured worker is usually a much higher amount for the employer to pay out when compared to typical maintenance and cure rates. Fortunately, most employers understand this, and will usually pay enough and sometimes even higher-than-expected compensation amounts. However, even though they are legally bound to pay for maintenance and cure, there are still some employers that try to get out of it. In these instances, it’s highly recommended that the seaman seek legal representation.