Maintenance and Cure Claims
The maritime doctrine of maintenance and cure relates to an injured crewman or commercial fisherman’s right to medical care and payment of a daily living allowance while recovering from a maritime illness or injury. The maintenance and cure doctrine applies to almost all injury or illnesses arising while working aboard fishing vessels, ships, tugs, and barges.
James Beard is a Seattle maritime injury lawyer with 30 years’ experience representing injured seamen and commercial fishermen in claims for maintenance, cure, lost wages, unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence. Following an injury aboard ship, Beard works with you and your doctors to ensure you receive appropriate medical evaluation and treatment. He has obtained authorization for his clients to receive some of the most sophisticated and innovative medical treatments currently available.
If you have been injured aboard ship, it is important to be sure you have received proper medical evaluation. Delay in getting treatment can unnecessarily aggravate and increase your injuries. Having your injuries documented is important to securing your right to future treatment and fair compensation in the event that your injuries are permanent and disabling.
Maintenance and cure are no fault benefits. Maintenance and cure benefits are an unwritten clause which is a part of every seaman’s contract of employment. You do not have to prove negligence or unseaworthiness to receive maintenance and cure benefits. The employer must reasonably investigate your claim and resolve all doubts about entitlement to maintenance cure in your favor. All reasonable and necessary medical treatment must be authorized by the maritime employer. You should not have to worry about medical bills; it is your employer’s obligation to pay these expenses. Medical costs covered include most medical expenses such as doctors and surgical bills, hospital bills, physical therapy, prosthetic devices, I-Hands, medications, x-rays, CT scans and MRI’s, spinal cord stimulators, Tens units, and pain management treatment.
Where there are conflicting medical opinions about what medical care should be provided to you, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that doubts as to entitlement to maintenance and cure benefits must be resolved in favor of the injured crewman. A reasonable request for curative treatment by a qualified treating doctor should never be denied. Unfortunately, some maritime employers and insurance companies are more concerned with saving on medical bills than getting you the medical care you need. In those cases where maintenance and cure benefits are willfully and wantonly withheld, a crewman may argue for an award of punitive damages.
If you have questions about your right to maintenance and cure benefits, it costs nothing to call Beard for a free initial consultation, at 1-800- 621-1091. If you have suffered a serious disabling injury, Beard recommends you immediately retain a qualified maritime injury lawyer to protect your maritime rights and benefits.You Also Have Rights to Compensation Under the Jones Act
Maintenance and cure benefits relate only to medical expenses and a daily living allowance while recovering from your injuries. Maintenance and cure benefits do not compensate you for lost wage earning capacity, pain and suffering, future medical expenses, disfigurement, psychological injuries, or vocational retraining costs. Recovery for these type of damages are governed by the Jones Act and the unseaworthiness doctrine. Under these laws, you must prove negligence of the employer or a fellow crewman or a defective condition or procedure aboard ship before you can receive compensation. In serious injury accidents, an injured seaman or fisherman should always have an experienced maritime lawyer on his side to protect his rights to compensation.Are Your Rights to Maintenance and Cure Being Wrongfully Denied?
Understanding your rights to maintenance and cure benefits is the beginning and foundation of any maritime injury claim. An injured seaman has the right to choose his own treating doctors. You should not be rushed back to work before you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement. It’s important that you receive the medical care you need to return to work to support yourself and your family. Working at sea aboard ships, tugs, or fishing vessels places high physical demands on your body. Injuries that leave you with physical impairments may create a risk of future harm to you or a fellow crewman. In that case, careful consideration should be given to whether or not it is safe for you to return to work at sea. It is important for your doctor to fully understand the physical demands of your work and extreme and difficult conditions under which you must work. If your injuries leave you unable to return to work or result in your having a diminished earning capacity, Beard can help you get the compensation you deserve under the Jones Act and the unseaworthiness doctrine.
Is your employer or insurance company representative recommending a second medical opinion about your treating doctor’s recommendation for surgery, therapy treatment, or the medical opinion that you are not fixed and stable? Beard recommends that in these circumstances the injured crewman consult with a Jones Act lawyer experienced in maintenance and cure claims before agreeing to the second medical opinion. Far too often the employer or its insurance carrier chooses biased doctors to do the examination for a second medical opinion. Their strategy for suggesting the second opinion may be to obtain evidence against you to limit the amount of compensation they have to pay in the future.
In serious and complicated injury claims involving potentially large medical bills and large claims for personal injury compensation, the employer’s insurance company sometimes appoints a “nurse case manager” to manage your medical claim. Have you been assigned a nurse case manager to work on your injury claim? Is the nurse case manager attending medical appointments with you and/or consulting with your treating doctors without your being present? Under the maritime law, you don’t have to agree to a nurse case manager. Nurse case managers are working for the employer’s insurance company. The nurse case manager is not your friend, and she/he is employed to keep down the costs of your claim. Beard believes doctors should make independent decisions for their patients’ care. Your medical decision should be based upon discussions between you and your doctors uninfluenced by the insurance company and/or a nurse case manager.
Don’t be fooled; you don’t have to sign a release of medical claims before returning to work. In many instances, the release you are asked to sign includes a release of future medical treatment and a full release of your injury claim under the Jones Act. Where an injured maritime worker has signed a release of his right to maintenance and cure, he may be denied his right to reopen his claim in the future. Don’t guess about the value of your claim; ask an experienced maritime lawyer like Beard for advice.The Right to Maintenance and Cure Has Few Exceptions
In almost all cases, the employer must pay the injured workers’ medical bills. A preexisting medical condition that becomes aggravated or first manifests while the seaman or fisherman is at work aboard his vessel is entitled to maintenance and cure benefits. Maritime employers sometimes attempt to defend maintenance and cure claims by claiming the injured crewman’s injury was the result of willful misbehavior or failure to properly disclose a preexisting condition. If you are being denied maintenance and cure benefits, you should consult with an experienced maritime lawyer. Over his 30 year career as a Jones Act lawyer, Beard has worked and evaluated thousands of maintenance and cure claims.Your Maintenance Rate
Calculating your maintenance rate involves multiple factors. A contractual rate of maintenance is not binding on an injured crewman. Maintenance is a minimal subsistence payment for seaman while they are recovering from their injuries. Maintenance is based upon reasonable room and board for the seaman in the area where he lives; it includes utilities, and food allowance. The law does not establish a set amount for maintenance, and the maintenance rate is determined on a case-by- case basis. Typically, maintenance is now being paid in the range of $35-50 a day, depending upon your circumstances. Unfortunately, maintenance pays only for the injured crewman and does not provide for living expenses of the crewman’s family.Your Right to Unearned Wages
When a crewman is injured working aboard ship and cannot continue his work duties, he is entitled to payment of his wages until the end of the voyage or until the end of his employment contract. These wages are called “unearned wages until the end of the voyage.” You do not have to prove fault or unseaworthiness to recover these wage benefits; it is your right under maritime law.
For example, if a seaman is injured on the 30th day of a 90-day contract, he is entitled to be paid for the 30 days he worked and the 90 days he is unable to work. If the seaman is injured on the last day of his contract, he is entitled to only the wages that he has previously earned and there would be no unearned wages.
A crewman can only recover for wages beyond his contract or the voyage by bringing a claim under the Jones Act or unseaworthiness doctrine. Under the Jones Act, if negligence is established, the crewman can recover for all past and future wages that he loses as a result of his injury.Agreements to Increase Maintenance and Pay Wages
If you have been injured working at sea, consult a maritime lawyer before signing any agreement about your right to maintenance and cure. Don’t give up your right to a jury trial or agree to arbitration in exchange for increased benefits. Always consult with an experienced maritime lawyer before entering into any agreement with the employer about your rights to compensation.Consult With a Maritime Lawyer Experienced in Maintenance and Cure Claims
If you have been injured working at sea, consulting with a maritime lawyer experienced in maintenance and cure, Jones Act negligence, and unseaworthiness claims is just smart business. Your employer and the vessel owner have sophisticated lawyers, doctors, and claims adjusters all working to minimize the compensation the insurance company will have to pay you. Shouldn’t you also have an experienced maritime lawyer on your side to give you advice? Federal maritime law gives you the right to have your medical bills paid and to receive fair compensation for injuries caused by negligence and unseaworthiness.
Contact James Beard for a free initial consultation to discuss your legal rights and the vessel owner’s obligation to pay you maintenance and cure benefits. You can call toll free at 1-800-621-1091. Beard represents clients located throughout the country who have been injured working as a fisherman or seaman in Alaska, Washington and Oregon.