Maintenance and Cure
A basic right of any Jones Act seaman is the right to maintenance and cure. This right was given to seaman hundreds of year ago because, among other things, the courts and the government recognize that if a man is going to subject himself to the perils of the sea than the least the employer can do is to provide basic care and support to that man if he is injured while in the service of a vessel.
The idea behind maintenance and cure is to provide an injured seaman medical care and support until he can go back to work or until he has reached maximum medical improvement (commonly referred to in the maritime industry as MMI). A seaman’s right to these benefits begins as soon as the injury occurs (assuming the injury occurred while the man was in service of the vessel) and continues until he reaches maximum medical improvement (“MMI”). It is also important to note that these rights exist regardless of who or what caused the injury.
Maintenance is intended to help an injured seaman cover the basic daily expenditures he has while he is recuperating from his injuries. The need for maintenance makes complete sense, but oftentimes employers simply refuse to pay.
Typically, when a seaman is injured his employer will refuse to pay him his normal wages because he is no longer working. This is not fair because the seaman still has bills to pay and mouths to feed. As a result, the law requires an employer to pay an injured seaman an amount of daily maintenance that will cover rent, food expenses for himself, other bills such as utilities and other daily expenses, as well as money to get to and from the doctor. While there is not an amount set by law, most companies try to low ball seaman and only pay between $15 and $30 a day. This amount is clearly insufficient and your lawyer should help you try to get more. This can be done by gathering evidence such as documents related to your rent, utilities, food expenses, travel expenses and other expenses you incur in your daily life.
Cure is the cost of medical care. The cure obligation is extensive and continuing. The cure obligation applies to any injury or illness that occurs while a seaman is in the service of a vessel. The cure obligation continues from the point of injury until the seaman has reached maximum medical improvement. Also, if a new medical procedure is developed that will improve a seaman’s old injury than the employer is required to pay for such procedure (assuming the procedure is not experimental).
Another thing to remember is that as a seaman you have an absolute right to chose your own doctor. Do not just accept the doctor recommended by your employer. Oftentimes company doctors are not fair and do not have your best interest at heart. We have seen too many times where the company doctor will say there is nothing wrong or put some back to work even though the person is still hurt. We recommend that you conduct research into what doctor will be the best for you and the injuries you have sustained. By way of example, if you hurt your back you need to see an orthopedic or neurosurgeon not a family practice doctor.