As a seaman, you may be familiar with maintenance and cure benefits, which are no-fault benefits to which the Jones Act entitles you should you sustain an injury or illness while in the service of a vessel. You may understand that maintenance refers to the reasonable cost of lodging, food and transportation to and from a medical facility. You may also understand that cure refers to the cost of medical services and attention.
That said, there may be a few things about maintenance and cure you do not understand. The United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit clears up a few misconceptions pertaining to maintenance and cure.
You have a burden of proof to establish your right to benefits
To receive maintenance and cure benefits, you must establish the existence of three elements by a preponderance of the evidence. Those elements are as follows:
- You are a seaman.
- You sustained an injury or illness while in the service of a vessel.
- You have amassed bills for both maintenance and cure while recovering from your injury or illness.
You cannot receive maintenance if your injury or illness hospitalizes you, as a hospital covers the cost of lodging and food. Your employer sets the maintenance rate based on what it costs you to obtain food and lodging on land.
If your employer fails to pay maintenance and/or cure
If your employer fails to pay you your benefits, and if your injury worsens as a result, you can claim compensation for additional damages. Additional damages you may accrue because of delayed benefits include additional medical expenses and pain and suffering.
However, know that you cannot recover double the benefits. If you receive benefits for medical expenses under maintenance and cure, you cannot recover compensation for the same care under a Jones Act negligence claim.
Your injury or illness need not be work-related
Your injury or illness need not be work-related to qualify for maintenance and cure benefits. So long as you sustained your condition while in the service of the vessel, you can claim benefits. Furthermore, your employer cannot reduce the number of benefits you receive based on any perceived level of negligence on your part. However, if your injury is the result of willful misconduct on your part, the courts can bar you from recovery.
You can receive benefits until the time of maximum recovery
The law entitles you to benefits from the date you depart the ship on which you worked. You can continue to receive benefits until the date of your maximum “cure.” The maximum cure does not mean a full recovery but rather, the date on which a doctor determines your medical condition cannot improve any further.
All injured or sick seaman are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits. If your employer attempts to deny you of these rights, or if you want to learn more, consult with a legal professional.