Maintenance and Cure Benefits Legally Available to Injured Maritime Workers
Injured maritime workers have a right to certain traditional remedies after an accident at sea. These remedies are known as maintenance and cure. Maintenance covers daily living expenses, while cure covers medical expenses required to treat the victim’s injuries. These remedies can provide a critical lifeline of financial support while the seaman misses time from work to recover from their injuries. Similar to workers’ compensation claims under state law, maintenance and cure claims do not require proving who was at fault for the accident.
While employers usually comply with their obligation to pay maintenance and cure, an employer sometimes might refuse to pay these benefits. When this happens, a maritime worker can hire an attorney to pursue not only their maintenance and cure benefits but also potentially punitive damages. These damages are awarded to punish an employer for their failure to respect the worker’s legal rights, and to deter other maritime employers from failing to pay maintenance and cure. Thus, damages in these cases may be significantly greater than the original amount that the maritime worker would have received for maintenance and cure.
Costs Covered by Maintenance and Cure
Maintenance consists of a daily living allowance that the injured or ill maritime worker is entitled to receive until they complete their recovery, to the extent possible. The idea is that the employer normally would provide room and board for a seaman on their vessel, so maintenance substitutes for room and board. Maintenance should account for necessary expenses related to food, clothing, housing, utilities, and other basic household costs. Necessary expenses are defined narrowly. For example, a worker could not collect maintenance to pay for telephone or internet service.
Maintenance payments are usually made on a weekly or biweekly basis through the employer or its insurer. The amount generally should reflect the actual household costs of the seaman, rather than an outdated, generic figure that may be inadequate.
Meanwhile, cure covers the reasonable and necessary costs of treating the injury or illness. An employer will pay for expenses such as surgery, medication, physical therapy, diagnostic tests, doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, medical devices, and transportation to appointments. Like maintenance, cure will end when the worker reaches maximum medical improvement. This means that further treatment will not improve their condition. Treatment only for pain does not entitle a worker to cure.
Independent Medical Exams
Sometimes an employer may require a worker to undergo an independent medical exam, especially if the worker has been away from their job for a long time. Doctors who conduct IMEs in maritime injury cases may favor the interests of the employer. They may look for ways to release a worker to return to their job when they are not physically ready. Even if a doctor is not biased, they may not fully understand the requirements of the job. Going back to work too soon can prevent a maritime worker from fully recovering and exacerbate their injury or illness. If a worker disagrees with an IME doctor who finds that they can return to their job, they can seek a second opinion from another doctor.
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