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Jeff Bloomfield, Esquire

Maintenance And Cure

Maintenance and Cure

Maritime Lawyer, Jeff Bloomfield can help you with Maritime Maintenance and Cure claims.  Maintenance refers to a vessel’s obligation to provide a mariner with food and lodging if he or she becomes injured or falls ill while in the service of the ship. In determining the amount of maintenance, the general rule is that a seaman is entitled to his actual reasonable cost of obtaining room and board ashore of the same quality that he or she received aboard the vessel. Cure refers to the duty to provide necessary medical care and attention. Maintenance and cure is an independent claim that is not contingent upon a recovery for negligence under the Jones Act or a violation of the duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.

Maintenance and cure dates back to the Middle Ages. It has been explained to be “among the most pervasive incidents of the responsibility anciently imposed upon a vessel for the health and security of sailors…” It is a contractual form of compensation. Seamen rely on it as an alternative to workers’ compensation.

In order to recover maintenance and cure a seaman must show that (1) he or she was working as a seaman, (2) he or she became ill or injured while in the service of the vessel, and (3) he or she lost wages or incurred expenditures relating to treatment for the illness or injury. It is now well settled that maintenance and cure is payable even though the ship owner is not at fault, and regardless of whether the seaman’s employment caused the injury or illness.

Seaman are considered wards of the court, and the rules providing for their benefit and protection are construed liberally. The vessel’s liability for maintenance and cure is among the most pervasive of all, and it is not to be defeated by restricted distinctions nor narrowly confined. When there are ambiguities or doubts, they are resolved in favor of the seaman. A seaman’s burden is “featherweight.” A vessel must pay maintenance and cure for an illness which occurred, was aggravated, or manifested itself while the seaman is in the ship’s service.
There are not many defenses to a claim for maintenance and cure. If, however, a seaman has willfully concealed a pre-existing condition at the time of hire, this may provide a defense for disabilities from such a condition.

The vessel’s obligation to pay maintenance, cure and unearned wages stops after the seaman has reached “maximum cure.” Maximum cure is reached when seaman’s condition is of permanent character and/or will not further improve with additional medical treatment.

A vessel owner has a duty to investigate a claim for maintenance and cure. Punitive damages and attorney fees may be awarded for the willful and wanton disregard of the maintenance and cure obligation. Furthermore, the negligent failure to provide maintenance and cure may be the basis for a Jones Act claim.

The three-year statute of limitations for Jones Act and maritime tort actions does not apply to an action for maintenance and cure, because the action does not sound in tort. Rather, the equitable defense of laches applies. Laches is the negligent and unintentional failure to protect one’s rights. A party asserting laches must show: (1) lack of diligence by the party against whom the defense is asserted, and (2) prejudice to the party asserting it. If the three-year maritime statute of limitations has run, however, this burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove excusable delay and lack of prejudice to the defendant.  CONTACT US TODAY FOR A FREE CONSULTATION! 

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