You are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits for any injury you suffered “in the service of a vessel.” It does not matter how the injury occurred or who caused it. You should still receive maintenance and cure until you have reached “maximum medical improvement.”
The Definition of Maintenance and Cure
‘Maintenance’ is defined as the amount of money it costs to maintain yourself on land, as your company does at sea. Maritime law defines ‘cure’ as reasonable medical expenses that are related to your injury.
Frequently Asked Questions
Maintenance benefits are daily payments from your employer that pay your living expenses.
Generally speaking, maintenance includes:
You are entitled to receive medical treatment until you reach the point at which your condition can no longer improve. Under the definition of “cure,” the treatment being provided by your physician must result in the betterment of your condition. Otherwise, your maritime employer will not be required to pay for such treatment under the law of maintenance and cure. For example, the definition of “cure” does not include treatment simply to relieve your pain. However, medical expenses, including treatment for pain, are recoverable under your Jones Act claim.
You are entitled to maintenance and cure even if you cannot identify a specific event that caused your injury. You qualify as long as your injury began while you were “in the service of the vessel.”
You can also download and print the Maintenance Request worksheet to fill out on your own.
You can also submit your own documentation. Be sure to include a breakdown of your monthly bills by category: electricity, rent/mortgage, insurance, cell phone, food, etc. Include a copy of last month’s actual bill for each item, if available. Some items such as food are simply estimated. Items such as electricity, rent/mortgages, and car insurance can be supported with an actual past bill.
Technically, there is no formal claim document or form that needs to be submitted to your employer in order to receive maintenance and cure. According to maritime law, maintenance and cure is automatically triggered when a worker has an injury or illness in the service of the vessel. Your employer should automatically be sending you maintenance checks and paying for your medical expenses.
If that’s not the case, you can simply make a verbal or written request to your employer or its representative. We highly recommend a written request so there is proof the request was made to your company or its insurer.
You are entitled to receive maintenance and cure benefits until your doctor says you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). Reaching MMI means that you have healed as much as possible. Additional medical care will not improve your condition further. At this point, the company is no longer obligated to pay for your maintenance and cure.
Who is eligible for Maintenance and Cure?
A ‘seaman’ who suffers an injury while at work is entitled to maintenance and cure. You are a ‘seaman’ if you are assigned approximately 30% or more of your time working on a vessel.
‘Vessel’s can be anything from a standard tugboat or offshore supply boat to a work barge stationed alongside a bridge. Oil rigs drilling for oil are also included as vessels under the law.
1st Assistant Engineer Master 2nd Assistant Engineer Mates 3rd Assistant Engineer Motorboat Operators Able Seamen Oiler (Marine Oilers) Barge Engineer Operators Boatswain Ordinary Seamen Captains Pilots of Water Vessels Chief Engineer Pumpman/Machinist Deckhands Pumpmen Designated Duty Engineer QMED Electrician/Refrigerating Roughneck Engineers Sailors Fireman/Watertender Ship Engineers First Class Pilot Tankerman Junior Engineer Tool Pusher Lifeboatman Wipers
*If you don’t see your position listed above, that does not necessarily mean you’re not eligible for Maintenance and Cure. It is best to consult a Jones Act attorney if you are unsure if you are covered.
No. Maintenance and cure are completely separate from any type of negligence claim that may be allowed against your company for causing your injury.
Yes. Even employees who suffer their injuries while technically off of the vessel, such as while traveling in a company car, or even working dockside off of the vessel, are still entitled to maintenance and cure as long as they were in the course of their employment. As long as it was during working hours, he will be covered.
Yes, non-physical injuries are covered under maintenance and cure. Two examples—a seaman who suffers PTSD during a traumatic event while aboard a vessel or has severe anxiety attacks while aboard the vessel and must be removed from the vessel. In both situations these employees would be entitled to receive maintenance, as well as their medical care relating to their mental and emotional injuries.
Yes. Even pre-existing conditions which are made worse by your service in the vessel are covered under maintenance and cure. In such situations, there is no specific accident or event that causes the injury, but the employee is still entitled to maintenance and cure. The employee essentially begins to experience pain or discomfort, while he was on the vessel, even though much of the damage may have been caused while he was off the vessel.
These cases can be tougher to prove, because there generally has to be some clear proof that the pre-existing condition was somehow made worse or came about while in the service of the vessel, as opposed to an individual who simply joins the vessel injured and then claims that the injury began to manifest while he was on the vessel. These types of maintenance and cure claims are typically fought hard by the companies. But if the injury actually did manifest while you were on board the vessel, regardless of how much pre-existed prior to your work on the vessel, it should still be covered under maintenance and cure.
Maintenance applies even when an individual is not injured by a specific, traumatic event aboard a vessel. This includes situations such as a heart attack, kidney stones, an infected gallbladder or appendix, or other non-traumatic illnesses. In these types of situations, the employee would be entitled to maintenance, as well as all medical costs.
The amount of maintenance you receive should depend upon your monthly expenses. However, most companies pay a flat standard maintenance rate to all their injured employees. Generally, we see employers pay anywhere from $15/day to $40/day in maintenance.
At The Young Firm, we believe a standard payment rate to all employees is wrong and contrary to the law. We will often try to have our clients’ maintenance rates increased by sending proof of their actual expenses.
No. Maintenance payments are not taxable. However, other types of payment (such as “advances”) can be taxable as they can be considered wages. This is why you should always insist that you receive only maintenance checks, rather than a combination of advances and maintenance. In short, if you receive as much money as possible in the form of a maintenance check, you will not likely have to pay taxes on that money.
No. The amount of maintenance to which you’re entitled relates solely to the amount of bills that you have on land to pay for the same items that you received while you were on your vessel. Whether or not you take out a loan for additional money, or to make ends meet, the loan will have no effect on the amount that your employer should be paying you in maintenance.
Yes. We encourage our clients to immediately apply for any short-term or long-term disability which may be available to them through their employer. If you qualify for short-term or long-term disability, you should still continue to receive maintenance payments from your employer, but your short-term or long-term disability will simply be reduced by the amount of maintenance payments you are receiving each week.
While you technically can apply for Social Security Disability Income, we generally tell our clients that they should avoid doing so. The reason for that is because it can affect any injury settlement you receive. Essentially, you’d be forced to include a “Medicare Set Aside account” (which is usually funded from your settlement money). This would reduce the total settlement you’d receive.
It is not recommended to file for unemployment. Unemployment is reserved for those who are able to work, but do not currently have a job. If you file for unemployment, you are indicating you are physically able to perform work, thus implying you are not injured in any way. If you’re physically able to work, then you’re no longer entitled to maintenance and cure, which is meant to help while you’re recovering from your injuries.
You are only entitled to maintenance and cure until you’ve reached ‘maximum improvement’ or ‘maximum cure’ from an injury or illness. Bottom line—it is inconsistent for a seaman to claim they need medical care for an injury AND indicate they are able to work through an unemployment application.
Maintenance is meant to cover your living expenses. So, if you are living rent-free and have other expenses taken care of by someone else, then you would not be entitled to maintenance.
Maintenance is tax-free money that you do not have to pay back to your company. Advances, however, are similar to loans and are meant to be paid back when you receive any kind of injury settlement. Most companies recognize that an injured employee cannot live off of $15-$40/day and so will offer advances as a way to supplement that low maintenance rate. Instead of giving you your full maintenance, they give you a portion of it and throw in advances that they intend to recoup at a later point.
According to maritime law, all maintenance and cure questions or ambiguities must be settled in favor of the injured seaman. It is crucial that you receive the maintenance rate that you need to pay your bills while you are out of work. Don’t settle for what the company thinks they can get away with paying you—insist on what you need to live.
Employers often require an injured maritime worker sees a company doctor for initial treatment and a medical report. The company doctor can say that no further treatment is needed. Then the employer is able to refuse to pay for anything else. However, you have the legal right to choose your own doctor—and the company MUST pay for it.
It’s crucial any injured worker sees his or her own physician, immediately after injury, or after the required ‘company doctor’. Having an impartial physician who is concerned with your health is necessary to get you proper medical reports and treatments. The employer must pay for all medical expenses that result from the workplace injury, regardless of the treating physician.
Avoid the ‘company doctor’ trap by choosing your own doctor to diagnose and treat a maritime work injury.
There are a few situations in which you could possibly be denied maintenance and cure. An experienced maritime lawyer from The Young Firm would know how to fight these denials on your behalf. Don’t let your company make excuses to deny your legal maritime rights.
Three Reasons Your Company Could Deny You Maintenance and Cure:
How We Fight It: Many times companies will misclassify you to avoid paying Maintenance and Cure. A Jones Act attorney can prove your status and force the company to pay.
How We Fight It: If you’re still experiencing pain and have been seeing the company’s chosen doctor, you should get a second opinion. Get all of the medical tests you need to show that you’ve actually healed as much as you can. These results will not likely match the company doctor’s assessment.
How We Fight It:Companies will often use something called the McCorpen defense to deny seaman maintenance and cure. At The Young Firm, our legal team has experience specifically fighting this defense, and removing yet another company set roadblock, interfering with your recovery.
Maintenance is a right given to seamen that comes from general maritime law. It is not a statutory right. This means that the laws of maintenance have come about over time through court decisions of judges. There is no written law for an injured seaman to read to help determine standard rights under maintenance or cure.
Maintenance and cure is ‘case’ law, meaning it is established based on the cases which discuss it. So hundreds of cases, decided by numerous judges over the years define maintenance or cure. The downside is that the closed cases are not entirely clear, or different judges have interpreted seaman rights slightly differently. When a law is written out in a statute, it is often easier to read and interpret the exact rules and context.
No, maintenance and cure is not the same thing as the Jones Act. It also does not come from the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a federal statute stating an injured seaman can collect all damages caused by his employer’s negligence. The Jones Act allows an injured seaman to collect compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, complete full lost wages, and income, as well as fringe benefits.
Meanwhile, maintenance is derived from general maritime law. Maritime law defines it as the amount of money an injured seaman needs to keep up the same living accommodations that were had through employment, and while injured and receiving curative treatment. This means that your employer pays for items such as electricity, housing, food, and other necessities that they provided to you while you were at work. The maintenance amount received is supposed to reflect your actual month-to-month living expenses while you are recovering from your injury.
YES! Fortunately, the law has changed in recent years to clearly state that employers can be held liable for punitive damages, and attorney fees if they fail to properly pay maintenance and or cure. In 2009 the United States Supreme Court finally passed a ruling that made it clear that an employer faces punitive damages if it wrongfully denies or terminates maintenance or cure.
This has resulted in many employers beginning to pay for much-needed surgeries, which years ago may have been denied to the injured seaman. Now, some employers are more willing to negotiate a higher rate of maintenance for the employee, out of fear that a punitive damage claim will be brought against them at trial if they are unreasonable in paying a fair rate of maintenance.
Earlier, we discussed the difference between ‘maintenance’ and ‘advances.’ We noted the company should cover your maintenance, but they can request you pay ‘advances’ back to them later.
However, a common tactic we see is reducing the maintenance payment and offering an ‘advance’ to help cover your expenses. In reality, the company knows most injured seaman would require both the maintenance and the advance to pay minimal bills each month. The company may even threaten to stop paying advances to injured employees should they consider hiring an experienced maritime attorney to fight for their legal rights.
We have a very strong reaction to this sort of unlawful treatment. Our legal team raises this issue at trial, further confirming the company’s indifference to the injured seaman’s needs. First, if you require a certain amount to pay your bills each month, it doesn’t matter what your company calls it, the law says they owe you the entire amount.
Next, we’d demand the company continue paying the full amount of maintenance and ‘advances’ each month, even after you hire us.
Finally, in Louisiana, the law allows us to provide our clients with living expenses if they need help paying bills until their case settles. We won’t let our clients feel backed into a corner by their company and forced to make a decision out of desperation to pay monthly bills. The Young Firm commits to supporting your health and protecting your financial future.
We know the maritime company is responsible, by law, to pay maintenance and cure to any injured or ill seaman. So what do you do if your company refuses to pay? You have the right to take your maintenance and cure claim to court. Keep in mind, this would be a separate claim from any liability case associated with your maritime injury. Your lawyer could argue on your behalf, to prove your company was both unreasonable and arbitrary in their refusal to pay your maintenance and cure.
It’s possible to recoup the attorney fees in your case if the court rules your company has been unreasonable. If the courts determine your company arbitrarily refused to pay, you may collect additional damages for the worsening of your condition.
Yes. There is a three (3) year period, following your injury, during which you can file a claim for maintenance. Even if your company delays paying or fails to pay for several months after your injury, the claim is still owed. You can demand payment for such money up to three years from the time it was first due. Some companies will wrongfully wait several weeks, in an effort to coax you back to work and avoid a lost time accident. The Young Firm recommends the injured seaman demand immediate payment of maintenance and cure starting the first week off of work following an injury.
While an attorney is not strictly necessary for a maintenance or cure claim, a lawyer with maritime experience will play an important role in securing the highest possible rate of maintenance while you are injured. More importantly, this maintenance claim directly relates to whether or not you need further medical treatment. This means it’s critical you receive treatment from impartial doctors, who are looking out for your health and recovery, unlike the ‘company doctor’ trap. You will not receive maintenance if your medical treatment is undeveloped or unsubstantiated by a company doctor. All the company needs to quickly, and wrongfully stop maintenance payments is to get the ‘company doctor’ to report no further treatment is necessary. A good maritime lawyer can often protect you from these traps if they are supporting you through your claim.
Many of our clients receive ‘advance’ checks, as well as ‘maintenance’ checks while they are injured. They often want to know if the company will demand repayment of the advances when they hire The Young Firm as their attorneys. The short answer is no. Companies never demand that the employee immediately pay back advances even after the employee has hired an attorney. If you try your case in court and receive a formal judgment, it is possible your company would argue your judgment should be reduced by the ‘advances’ paid to you. We see companies argue these advances were not required by law. In all our years exclusively representing injured maritime clients, no one has ever paid back any advances out of their settlements with our support.
A declaratory judgment action is a document filed in court asking that something be ‘declared’ or determined by the court. In some situations, employers will file a declaratory action asking a court to rule that they no longer have to pay maintenance or cure payments to an injured seaman. However, in most situations employers never file such actions before they terminate benefits. The law does not require it, nor do they need to seek court approval to terminate your benefits. The only requirement for an employer to terminate your maintenance and cure benefits is when a doctor or medical provider states you have reached maximum cure. This means it can be any doctor, even one chosen by your company. Other doctors may disagree, and you may still be in pain and injured, but if you cannot be ‘cured’ or your condition made better, then you may be at maximum cure. We find that about one third of companies will simply send you a letter advising that they are terminating your maintenance, because some doctor has put you at maximum cure. They often refer to that doctor and his opinion in their letter to you. In that situation, your maintenance benefits stop suddenly. Many of our soon-to-be clients reach out to us at that point for answers and help with their claim. Alternatively, about one-third of companies will send a different letter, advising they have an opinion you have reached maximum cure. It may also include a general amount of time, in which they will ‘have’ to stop paying you maintenance. These may seem like understanding employers, but what comes next is the real trick to their approach. During the few weeks after they tell you they will stop paying your maintenance and when you get your last maintenance check, they start to negotiate low ball offers with you to resolve your claim. You then know that your checks will stop soon and they want you to feel desperate so you accept any settlement they may offer you. Many other soon-to-be clients call us at this stage worried and scared. Finally, we find that about a final one-third of employers will file a declaratory action in court before they terminate any maintenance or cure benefits to the employee. These are generally more forward-thinking, cautious employers, who want an official ruling from a court confirming they cannot be penalized if they terminate maintenance and cure benefits.
We serve injured blue water and brown water maritime workers all over the U.S. We dedicate 100% of our practice to maritime law, resulting in unmatched experience. Put your trust in The Young Firm in New Orleans. Call us if you are not receiving fair maintenance and cure or have other questions about your rights.