Maintenance and cure dates back to ancient times and is the idea that someone working aboard a ship has certain rights if he or she is injured on that ship, regardless of any negligence. Work aboard ships is dangerous and risky, and it was long ago decided that anyone willing to work in these conditions was entitled to certain benefits in case of injury or sickness. The ancient law has been passed down to modern times and current maritime law includes this provision to ensure that injured seamen are given maintenance, money for everyday living expenses, and cure, payment for adequate medical care.
If you are a seaman and you were injured on the job, you have certain rights guaranteed by this law. Your employer, regardless of negligence, is obligated to provide you with adequate compensation to meet this right. If you are not receiving what is within your right to get, contact a lawyer knowledgeable in maritime law to help you take the next step.
Maintenance under maritime law refers to the costs of maintaining yourself and your daily life when you can’t work, or in simple terms, room and board. If you can’t work and earn a wage, because of an injury aboard a vessel, this aspect of the law entitles you to the money you need to pay rent and utilities, to buy food, to pay for insurance and taxes, and to cover any other necessities related to your home.
The right to maintenance from your employer comes from the fact that a ship owner is responsible for housing and feeding you when you are aboard a ship. This extends to your daily needs when you are off the ship and unable to work because of an injury or sickness. Anything that is not a necessity, like a cable bill or gas for your car, is not covered under maintenance. The law is specific to household necessities.
Cure is related to your injury or illness caused by being on the job as a seaman. Whatever medical care you need as a result of that illness or injury should be covered by your employer under the law. This includes medical bills, but also medications, transportation to medical appointments, and any kind of reasonable medical treatment, like physical therapy.
Maintenance and Cure for Illness
This right does not apply only to injuries that occur aboard a vessel. Working on a ship is a dangerous and risky job, and accidents are not uncommon, but you can also get sick because of your work or simply while you are at work. Your illness doesn’t have to be related to your duties or the environment of the ship. If you are too sick to work and your illness developed while you were aboard the ship, you are still entitled to maintenance and cure from your employer until you are well again.
The Duration of Benefits
The right to living benefits and care lasts until you reach what is termed maximum medical improvement, or MMI. MMI refers to a point which you have been treated medically until your condition cannot be improved anymore. This could mean you are fully cured or healed, but it may mean that you are living with a chronic condition. Either way, your right to maintenance and cure expires when your doctor declares you have reached MMI.
The Rate of Benefits
The rate paid out for the right of cure to an injured seaman should be exactly what the medical expenses cost, not any less. There was a time when employers paid less than the actual living expenses for maintenance, but court cases challenging the practice of underpaying for maintenance were successful. Employers now must pay the actual living expenses of injured seamen.
If you belong to a union, your contract may include a provision for the rate of maintenance that applies to all members, regardless of your actual living expenses. However, the law regarding union maintenance rates is interpreted differently in different parts of the country. A personal injury lawyer experienced in maritime law can help you figure out if your union membership affects or determines your maintenance rate.
The Difference Between Maintenance and Cure and the Jones Act
As a seaman with an injury from being on the job you have more than one source of protection under the law. The major difference between your rights under this law and those under the Jones Act is related to negligence. According to the law, your employer has a responsibility to compensate you, regardless of who, if anyone was at fault for your injury or illness. You have no burden to prove negligence on the part of anyone, even your employer.
If you are injured and can prove that your employer’s negligence contributed to the incident, you have the right to sue for more compensation under the Jones Act. In addition to costs for living and for medical care, the Jones Act allows you to request damages for lost wages and pain and suffering.
Qualifying for Maintenance and Cure
To qualify for these rights you must meet the requirements that define a seaman. These are the same as those required by the Jones Act. A seaman according to both laws is someone who spends at least 30 percent of work time aboard a vessel, does work that contributes to the running of the vessel, and does work that takes place on navigable waters.
When You Have Been Denied Benefits
If you have been injured on the job, or you have become ill because of your working conditions, and you meet the requirements of being a seaman, you are entitled to benefits. It doesn’t matter if your employer was not negligible; you still have that right. If an employer is denying you that right, you can fight for the compensation you deserve with the guidance of an experienced maritime lawyer.