Morrow & Sheppard LLP is equipped to handle cases involving maritime accidents and injuries to maritime workers under the Jones Act.
The Jones Act comprises a body of laws designed to protect sea-faring workers. More specifically, the Jones Act protects workers who qualify as “Seaman.”
If you are injured as a Seaman, you have the right to bring a lawsuit or causes of action to recover money damages for the injuries you sustained. Like most injury lawsuits, Seamen can recover money for damages in the general areas of: medical costs in the past and future, lost wages / economic loss in the past and future, pain and suffering in the past and future, and other monetary damages. However, the Jones Act also provides unique rights to Seamen who sustain injuries in two specific categories: “Maintenance & Cure.”
If you are questioning whether you qualify as a Seaman under the Jones Act, contact one of our Jones Act Attorneys at Morrow & Sheppard to evaluate your status and assist you with your potential claims.
Once determined that you qualify as a Seaman under the Jones Act, you will know that you are legally entitled to Maintenance & Cure.
No-Fault Remedy – You Are Entitled to Benefits Regardless of Who Caused the Accident/Injuries
The first important aspect of Maintenance and Cure under the Jones Act is that seamen are entitled to both of these types of benefits without having to prove fault or negligence of another. If you are injured during the course of your work as a seaman, these benefits are automatic – your employer must provide you these benefits no matter how the injuries occurred or who is at fault for causing the injuries.
Maintenance is the money that a seaman is entitled to receive from his employer while recovering from injuries or illness. Maintenance payments are designed to pay seamen for daily costs of living on land in the same manner that the seaman lived offshore.
Again, these payments are generally required. It generally does not matter how the injury or illness occurred. As stated by Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law, § 6–28 (5th ed. 2011):
Defenses to maintenance and cure are few. As a general rule the seaman need only prove that his injury or illness arose during employment. He is not required to establish a causal link between his job duties and his injury. The contributory negligence of the seaman will not diminish his recovery and neither his assumption of the risk nor gross negligence will bar an award.
In fact, the circumstances surrounding the injury should not matter at all. courts have held seamen were entitled to maintenance and cure when, for example, a seaman got drunk and fell over a dance hall balcony. See generally Warren v. U.S., 340 U.S. 523 (1951). In another case, a seaman was entitled to maintenance and cure when he had to jump out a window while drunk because a prostitute locked him in a room. See Generally Koistinen v. American Expert Lines, Inc., 194 Misc. 942 (N.Y. Cty. 1948).
How Much Should I Actually Be Paid in Maintenance?
The general law is that an employer is required to pay an injured seaman all reasonable and necessary living expenses for the seaman while he is on land recovering from the injuries which occurred on the vessel or oil rig. These payments are typically limited to the seaman’s expenses, and do not include expenses of the seaman’s family members.
Over many years, companies have attempted to fix the rates of maintenance pay for workers to somewhere between $8 – $40 per day on average. We at Morrow & Sheppard believe that these fixed rates have no basis in law and should be challenged. In other circumstances, companies will fix the amount of pay based on a union contract or employment agreement that seaman sign or agree to prior to boarding a vessel.
Under the law, your company should be obligated to pay you maintenance in the amount of your bills while you are on land. In the event of an injury, you should always deliver documentation to demonstrate the amount of your monthly bills you are paying on land, and request the daily amount that covers these expenses. For example:
These costs may not be paid in full (see cases below), but as you will read further, it is crucial to maximizing your maintenance pay that you submit all evidence of expenses and request a daily amount calculated from those expenses.
Of course, these costs are an example, and certain courts have made distinctions on what a shipowner or employer owes to a seaman in the event of injury. Specifically, the Fifth Circuit (which covers laws of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi) has awarded varying amounts for maintenance:
Hall v. Noble Drilling (U.S.) Inc., 242 F.3d 582 (5th Cir. 2001):
- This case says that a court must estimate two amounts: the seaman’s actual costs of food and lodging; and the reasonable cost of food and lodging for a single seaman in the locality. This includes evidence of reasonable costs in the locality, and any union contract or employment contract stipulating rate of maintenance per diem payments for shoreside food or lodging
- The court should compare actual expenses versus reasonable expenses; the court should award the lesser of the two
- If the court awards actual expenses:
- The amount of rent or mortgage a seaman pays (even if living with his family) should not be prorated for each member of the household. A single seaman may use the full monthly amount to determine the daily maintenance pay
- The utility costs (e.g., heat, electricity, water) are prorated based on number of people in the seaman’s household
- In this case, the two injured seaman were awarded amounts of $30.50/day and $31.50/day
Harper v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 741 F.2d 87 (5th Cir. 1984)
- In this case, the court acknowledged that a “standard figure” for maintenance pay had developed to be $8/day.
- The injured seaman had been awarded $40/day by a jury, but was unable to produce evidence to support this amount. Instead, the evidence showed that the food allowance for workers aboard the ship was at $20/day.
- Without the evidence to support an award of $40/day, the court determined $20/day was the appropriate amount
In other cases, the Fifth Circuit has held differently based on the evidence submitted: See Wood v. Diamond M. Drilling Co., 691 F.2d 1165, 1171 (5th Cir.1982) ($30 a day); Morel v. Sabine Towing & Transportation Co., 669 F.2d 345, 347–48 (5th Cir.1982) ($20 a day); Caulfield, 633 F.2d at 1132–33 ($15 a day).
Important takeaway: submit evidence in your case to achieve maintenance payments in the appropriate amount.
Of note – your maintenance pay may even exceed the costs asserted if you require extra money to survive during your injury.
Consequences of Employer’s Failure to Pay Maintenance and Cure
The obligation to pay maintenance and cure is so absolute that the United States Supreme Court has held juries can and should award attorneys’ fees and punitive damages when an employer fails to pay maintenance and cure. See, e.g. Noble Drilling (US) LLC v. Deaver, 596 S.W.3d 482, 487–88 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2020) (holding seaman was entitled to punitive damages and attorneys’ fees where employer for failure to pay maintenance and cure); Vaughn v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 530 (1962) ( injured seamen entitled to attorneys’ fees for failure to pay maintenance and cure); Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404, 413 (2009) (inured seamen entitled to punitive damages for failure to pay maintenance and cure).
If you are a seaman and are injured on the job, the other important aspect of your rights besides maintenance is the right to “cure.” The right to cure, like maintenance, is also generally absolute and your employer is required to provide all medical treatment, care, and services that you need in order to treat your injuries.
First, it is vitally important that you know that you are permitted to select your own medical care providers. Employers will often work hand-in-hand with insurance companies that will attempt to select your doctors for you. This will often happen aboard the ship (where no other doctor is available) and extend to whichever port you disembark the vessel. Employers and insurers will often have specific clinics set up for you to visit once on land. We typically recommend that you seek your own care providers so that you can ensure you are getting the appropriate treatment.
This is important because Jones Act employers are only required to pay for your treatment until you reach “maximum medical cure.” Maximum medical cure refers to the stage of your treatment in which your injuries or illnesses will no longer improve, even if you continue receiving treatment. If a doctor determines you have reached maximum medical cure, the employer will no longer be legally obligated to pay for your treatment. Therefore, it is important that you avoid only receiving medical treatment or exams from a company doctor or company insurance doctor, and instead seek other opinions.
Contact Our Top-Rated Maintenance & Cure Lawyer For A Free Consultation Today!
It is important that you exercise your rights to maintenance and cure and maximize both to protect your interests. Your maritime employer is required to pay these costs by law. Without proper representation, you risk leaving money on the table that you may be legally entitled to. If you are injured aboard a vessel, oil rig, or while working on the water, contact a maintenance and cure attorney at Morrow & Sheppard LLP to help evaluate and maximize your claims.