If you are a commercial fisherman or merchant seaman, you have probably heard of the terms “maintenance and cure.” But what is maintenance and cure exactly? In general, maintenance and cure are benefits that an injured seaman receives from an employer during the course of recovery. An injured seaman is entitled to receive maintenance and cure benefits regardless of whose fault the injury was. Read on to learn more. (Get the basics on Seamen's Injuries, the Jones Act, and more.)
Maintenance means the room and board of the injured seaman while recovering from the injury at home. The concept of maintenance originates from the employer’s obligation to provide room and board while the seaman is serving on a ship.
Therefore, maintenance includes such expenses as the seaman’s rent or mortgage, utilities, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and food, but not things like telephone, cable, internet, or car payments. Maintenance doesn’t include telephone or internet because maintenance only relates to the necessary expenses of running one’s household.
Rent or mortgage, utilities, taxes, and insurance are necessary household expenses, while telephone, cable, and internet are not necessary household expenses. Car payments and gasoline are not covered under maintenance because they are not technically household expenses.
Cure is the injured seaman's reasonable and necessary medical expenses, along with the cost of transportation for getting to his/her reasonable and necessary medical treatment. Just like an injured land-based employee who receives workers’ compensation benefits, an injured seaman should not have to pay anything toward his/her medical treatment for the work-related injury.
An injured seaman is entitled to receive maintenance and cure until the seaman reaches a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). When someone is at MMI, it means that he/she is as good as he/she is going to get.
Generally, when a doctor thinks that a patient is at MMI, the doctor will discharge the patient from care. The person may not have fully recovered from the injury, but they are not expected to improve any further.
Typically, the employer or the employer’s insurer will pay maintenance weekly or bi-weekly. The employer discharges its obligation to pay cure benefits by paying the injured seaman’s medical bills directly.
As noted above, maintenance includes all of the seaman’s household expenses. But for many years maritime employers and insurers were accustomed to paying a trivial amount of maintenance like $8 to $10 per day ($240 to $300 per month), regardless of the seaman’s actual living expenses.
Luckily, court decisions have made it clear that maritime employers cannot get away with this anymore. Maintenance must be the seaman’s actual household expenses. If, for example, the seaman lives in a high cost area where household expenses approach $2,500 per month, then that is what maintenance should be.
There is one exception to the rule that a seaman’s maintenance rate is actual household expenses. That is when a seaman is a union member, and the union contract contains a maintenance rate that covers all union members. So, if you are a seaman covered by a union contract, and the contract says that injured union members will receive $500 per month for maintenance, then, unfortunately, that will be your maintenance rate.
However, there is an exception to that exception. The union contract maintenance rule only applies in certain parts of the country. Different federal courts have interpreted this rule differently. If you are a maritime union member and want to know whether your union contract maintenance rate governs your situation, you should contact a maritime personal injury lawyer so that they can advise you about the law that applies to your situation.
Maintenance and cure applies to illnesses as well as injuries. If you are a seaman and come down with a disabling illness or medical condition while serving on a vessel, you are entitled to maintenance and cure until you reach MMI from that condition, even if that illness or condition was not caused by your work or service on the vessel.
The law requires a maritime employer to pay maintenance and cure as it comes due, but that doesn’t always happen. If you are a seaman who was injured at work and are not receiving your maintenance and cure benefits, you should contact a qualified maritime personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to learn your legal rights.
Learn more about Maritime Worker Injuries and the Law.