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When are seamen entitled to maintenance and cure claims?

Under the general maritime law of the United States, seamen are generally entitled to maintenance and cure whenever they are injured and/or fall ill while in the service of their vessel. This includes illnesses and injuries that become evident during employment, injuries ashore, and even prior injuries which reoccur during employment. Employers are required to pay maintenance and cure irrespective of the fault or negligence of the seaman.

"Maintenance" is a daily stipend provided for living expenses. It is the reasonable cost of subsistence the seaman has incurred while recuperating on land. There is no set daily rate for maintenance, and the rate of maintenance may vary from case to case. Typical maintenance rates along the U.S. Gulf Coast may range from $30 to $60 a day. "Cure" is the payment of reasonable medical expenses. A seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure payments until s/he reaches maximum medical improvement or until s/he is fit to return to duty at their previous level.

An employer has the affirmative duty to: (1) promptly investigate any claim for maintenance and cure and resolve doubts as to entitlement in favor for the seaman; and (2) promptly pay amounts due. If an employer arbitrarily and willfully fails to pay maintenance and cure, both punitive damages and attorney's fees may be awarded.

Seamen with preexisting medical conditions are not barred from making maintenance and cure claims. If shipboard work aggravated the condition, the seaman may still be eligible for maintenance and cure benefits. However, a seaman has the duty and obligation to disclose a pre-existing medical condition to their employer. Failure to do so may preclude recovery for maintenance and cure if it is determined that the seaman intentionally misrepresented or concealed medical facts. That said, the seaman may still entitled to recover medical expenses (cure) if he or she is successful in pursuing their Jones Act or general maritime claim for unseaworthiness.

In certain instances the seaman's medical expenses may be paid by his or her health insurer. In those instances, the employer should only be liable for reimbursement for the discounted cost of the medical services obtained by the health insurer.

To learn more about maintenance and cure, or other areas of maritime law, contact Koch & Schmidt today for a consultation at no charge. We look forward to hearing from you and can be reached at 504-541-9026 or by submitting your request directly to our maritime lawyer by clicking here.

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