Injured seamen have rights beyond traditional workers' compensation benefits. Generally, injured workers are entitled to payment for related medical treatment, payment for loss of wages during the period of disability, and, ultimately, a permanent partial disability payment. Under maritime law, injured seamen may have negligence and unseaworthiness claims, but they are also entitled to the right to payment for maintenance, cure and unearned wages. In this article, I will outline seaman's rights to these benefits.
Maintenance, Cure And Unearned Wages In General
A vessel owner is responsible for paying maintenance and cure relative to any injury or illness occurring during a seaman's service. This obligation arises from the employment relationship and exists regardless of the seaman's fault or any negligence or unseaworthiness of the vessel.
Furthermore, a seaman who becomes ill or is injured while in the service of the vessel is entitled to unearned wages from his employer until he is fit for duty or until the voyage upon which he becomes disabled ends. The seaman's rights to maintenance, cure and unearned wages are based upon the employment relationship, and, therefore, the employer is obligated to make payment.
Maintenance is the daily payment necessary to compensate a seaman for room and board generally furnished aboard the vessel. Maintenance commences on the date on which a seaman leaves the vessel, not the date of his injury or illness.
In recent years, many attorneys have disputed the amount of maintenance which has been traditionally paid. The local maintenance rate is between $20 and $30 per day. Unfortunately, the courts have generally refused to award a higher rate, even though there is a legitimate argument for a more substantial daily payment.
Maintenance continues only until a seaman reaches maximum medical cure, regardless of whether or not he remains disabled and unable to return to work as a seaman.
Cure is a seaman's right to medical treatment. A seaman's right to cure also continues until he is fit for duty or reaches maximum medical stability. A seaman is obligated to mitigate his medical expenses, however the seaman's employer has the burden of proving that the extent of medical costs of treatment by a seaman has been excessive or unnecessary.
In addition to maintenance and cure, the disabled seaman is entitled to the wages he or she would have received if able to continue working throughout the remainder of the voyage or contract. In other words, if a seaman is injured at the beginning of a contracted fishing season, he is entitled to the crew's share agreed upon, even though he was unable to perform his required duties.
Generally, disputes arise as to the term "voyage". In evaluating this term, the courts look to the agreed period of employment between the parties and past practices between the employee and employer.
Unearned wages include overtime, bonuses, and other employment benefits that a seaman would have earned if able to perform his duties aboard the vessel.
Maximum Medical Cure.
A seaman reaches maximum medical cure when his condition will not further improve with additional medical treatment. The fact that a seaman continues to be disabled or is receiving "palliative" treatment does not entitle him to further maintenance and cure if his condition will not improve.
The courts have generally resolved disputes regarding maximum medical cure in favor of the seaman.
The benefits of maintenance, cure and unearned wages are a substitute for standard workers' compensation benefits. This article has provided only a simple outline of the wage and medical services benefits to which an injured seaman is entitled. Many additional issues may arise when the practitioner is consulted by the injured seaman.
A careful review of maritime treatises should be undertaken when confronted with any complex or disputed issues.