Maintenance is the right of a seaman to food and lodging if he is injured or falls ill while in the services of the ship. It is a daily amount of money that is supposed to cover his daily living costs such as rent or mortgage, heat, gas, electricity, water, sewer and groceries.
Despite the law, many times employers do not pay the proper amount of maintenance, only paying the seaman $15-$20 a day, which does not even cover his daily living costs. Our maritime attorneys have a continued history of getting maritime employers to increase the maintenance rate to reflect living costs, increasing the rate up to 5 times greater than what the employer was initially paying. If your employer is not paying you maintenance or is paying you a small or inadequate amount, call Latti & Anderson LLP so we can start the process to increase your maintenance.
Cure is the right to necessary medical expenses; it is the payment of his medical care and treatment. A seaman has the right to seek treatment from an illness or injury from doctors of his choosing. A seaman does not have to be treated by doctors recommended by the Employer or insurance company. The maritime attorneys at Latti & Anderson LLP make sure clients understand that they are under no obligation to receive treatment from a company-recommended doctor. We help injured seamen obtain proper medical care from the physician of their choice, making sure the proper tests are conducted and the right diagnosis is made while the company pays their health care expenses.
Cure also entitles you to reimbursement of expenses for prescriptions, medical equipment, travel to and from your doctor visits and parking for your medical visits. You must save your receipts and submit your out of pocket expenses to your employer for reimbursement. Many times, seamen are unaware that they can obtain reimbursement for these expenses.
Qualifying for Maintenance and Cure and Payment Without Regard to Fault
To get maintenance and cure, you have to prove that you are a seaman who has an injury or illness that arose while in the service of the ship. It is very simple. Maintenance and cure, unlike a claim for damages under the Jones Act or for unseaworthiness, is paid regardless of fault for the injury. In that sense, it is somewhat like workers’ compensation benefits. In the past, we have fought for and obtained maintenance and cure for seamen who:
- Have chipped a tooth eating Salisbury steak during lunch on a tanker
- Cracked a tooth eating pizza on a vessel
- Had a heart attack on vessel
- Had symptoms of disease like cancer manifest while on vessel in employment
- Suffered injuries on vessel
Maximum Medical Improvement
Once you do prove you are entitled to maintenance and cure, the payments continue until you reach a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is “when it appears probable that further treatment will result in no betterment of the seaman’s condition.” In other words, MMI occurs when your doctor can do nothing further to improve your condition and you cannot be cured any further. If your doctor is only treating you for pain and is no longer attempting to cure or heal you, the maintenance and cure payments stop.
Typically, employers are eager to declare that an injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement and can return to work, eliminating the need to pay the worker maintenance and cure. To that end, they often encourage injured workers to visit the company doctor – a doctor who may support the employer’s effort to put a cap on maintenance and cure by declaring the employee fit to return to work. If this is happening, it is important that you contact Latti & Anderson LLP to help determine your options regarding your maintenance and cure benefits.
Seeing the Company Doctor: Having an IME
Even if you choose not to see the company doctor for your treatment, the employer or its insurer may insist at some later point during your recovery that you see one of its doctors for an exam. They will call it an “Independent Medical Exam” (IME) and will tell you that it is just to allow them an independent analysis of your case, but do not be fooled. The “company doctor” is not independent. He or she is hired to represent the interests of your employer and the insurance company. That doctor’s job is to find you fit for duty. If he or she does not, the company will find someone who will. Employers and insurance companies usually use the company doctor or the IME to try to cut off your entitlement to maintenance and cure before you are ready to return to work.
Employer Not Paying Maintenance and Cure? You Could Get Punitive Damages
Sometimes, an employer or its insurance company will only pay a fraction of the full amount to which the maritime worker is entitled under maritime law, or they may refuse to pay at all.
In its recent decision Townsend v. Atlantic Sounding, the U.S. Supreme Court held that injured workers could get punitive damages if their employers willfully and intentionally fail to pay maintenance and cure to the injured employees. That means that if your employer refuses to pay maintenance and cure, a judge or a jury could award you even more money to punish your employer for that refusal.
Do not let your employer or its insurer push you around. If your employer or its insurance company wants to send you to an IME or if they are refusing to pay you the maintenance and cure to which you are entitled, contact the experienced maritime lawyers at Latti & Anderson LLP right away before you go to the IME and before you accept less than you should. We help clients nationwide.