How Do I Open a Claim for Maintenance and Cure

In serious injury cases, it is recommended that an injured crewman obtain the help and assistance of an experienced Jones Act lawyer as soon as possible after their injury. Experienced maritime lawyers are thoroughly experienced in the employer’s obligation and responsibility to pay maintenance and cure benefits. As soon as you are injured, the employer and their insurance company begin utilizing tactics to try to limit the amount of medical care and compensation that may have to be paid on your claims.

Opening a crewman’s claim for maintenance and cure benefits requires little more than putting your employer on notice of your shipboard injury and making demand for benefits. There are no official forms to fill out, and there is no claim number assigned to your case. Sounds easy, and it’s supposed to be easy, but getting you the maintenance and cure benefits you are entitled to is almost always a battle with the employer and their insurance company.

Your treating doctor may require the employer to provide preapproval for expensive testing and treatment. Your employer and their insurance company may try to avoid authorizing recommended surgeries. They may suggest second opinions from doctors they have selected. A maritime lawyer works with you and your doctors to get the authorizations you need to get you the prompt and thorough treatment you are entitled to under the law.

Your employer’s duty to provide you maintenance and cure benefits starts the moment you are injured working aboard their vessel. Depending upon the nature of your illness or injury, ship-to-shore medical advice should be obtained by the vessel’s captain to determine how your injury should be treated. The vessel and your employer have the duty to provide competent emergency medical treatment immediately after your injury aboard the vessel. All vessels must be prepared to respond to a medical emergency at sea. Emergency medical evacuation from the vessel must be ordered in some cases. No employer should risk further serious injury or death of a crewman to make a few more dollars.

The first thing to do if you have been injured working as a crewman or commercial fisherman is to report your injury to your employer. You may be asked to fill out an accident report. When filling out the accident report, describe how you were injured, list the witnesses and other crewmen involved, and describe your injuries. Never admit responsibility for an accident that wasn’t your fault.

Once you have reported your injury, you should ask your captain or employer for authorization to obtain proper medical evaluation or treatment. Under the Federal maritime law maintenance and cure doctrine, your employer in almost all cases must pay for your reasonable and necessary medical expenses (cure), and also pay you a daily living allowance (maintenance) while you are recovering from your injuries. In emergencies, the duty to provide cure includes the costs associated with emergency medical evacuation from the ship or fishing boat, and transportation home to receive medical treatment. These cure benefits are no fault benefits provided under the general maritime law.

In serious injury cases, after receiving initial medical care for your injuries, it is recommended that you obtain legal advice from a maritime injury lawyer. The laws that govern injuries at sea are far different than those laws that apply to land-based workers. Injured crewmen, with few exceptions, are not covered by State workers’ compensation acts. Instead, crewman injuries are governed by complex Federal maritime laws. In addition to maintenance and cure benefits, when a crewman is injured as a result of negligence, Federal maritime laws permit the crewman to hold their employer responsible for their injuries.

If your employer is not paying your maintenance and cure benefits, you may have to file a lawsuit in court to enforce your rights under Federal maritime law. As a general rule, the statute of limitations on maritime injury cases for crewmen bringing an injury case against their employer or their vessel is three years. This means that your complaint/lawsuit must be filed in State or Federal Court within three years of the date of your first injury, or it may be time barred. There are exceptions to this three-year maritime statute of limitations rule, and an experienced maritime lawyer should always be consulted early on in your claim to determine what the statute of limitations may be in your case. For example, in some cases against the United States your statute of limitations may be shorter than three years and may require the filing of an administrative claim prior to filing a lawsuit. In some limited factual instances an injured seaman may be entitled to reopen an old claim for maintenance and cure, provided there has been no release or settlement of the claim.

The maintenance and cure doctrine allows an injured crewman to select his or her own treating physician. All disputes about an injured seaman’s right to medical care should be resolved in favor of the injured seaman. Where the employer willfully and wantonly ignores their legal duties to pay maintenance and cure benefits to an injured crewman, the crewman may seek punitive damages and attorney fees.

Maritime injury lawyer James Beard has been handling maintenance and cure claims for injured seamen for over 30 years. He has helped injured crewmen and fishermen obtain federal maritime benefits in over a thousand cases. Beard knows maritime law, and he knows the Federal benefits you are entitled to when you are injured working at sea. Call Beard for a free initial consultation at 1-800-621-1091. Let Beard explain your employer’s obligation to pay you maintenance and cure benefits. Beard is always on the side of the injured maritime worker and never represents the insurance company.