The Doctrine of Maintenance and Cure provides seamen with a workers’ compensation type of benefit

The Doctrine of Maintenance and Cure provides seamen with a workers’ compensation type of benefit
Messier v Bouchard Transp., USCA, 2nd Circuit, Docket #10-5181

The Doctrine of Maintenance and Cure has been compared to workers’ compensation benefits in that the duty arises from employment and “does not rest upon negligence or culpability on the part of the owner or master.” As the Second Circuit said in Weiss v. Cent. R.R. Co. of N.J., 235 F.2d 309, maintenance and cure has been called “a kind of nonstatutory workmen’s compensation” benefit.

Under the Doctrine, the owner of the vessel is obligated to provide food, lodging, and medical services to a seaman while in he or she is in service. The Doctrine entitles an injured seaman to three remedies —maintenance, cure, and wages. The general rule is that “maintenance and cure” is available for any injury or illness that occurs during a seaman’s service.

A seaman filed a complaint in federal district court asserting claims for negligence under the federal Jones Act* and for "maintenance and cure under general maritime law."** Ultimately he withdrew all claims other than those for “Maintenance and Cure.”

Reversing the district court’s dismissal of the seaman’s petition, the Circuit Court of Appeals said that “Maintenance” compensates the injured seaman for food and lodging expenses during his medical treatment. “Cure” refers to the reasonable medical expenses incurred in the treatment of the seaman’s condition while lost wages are provided in addition to maintenance on the rationale that “maintenance compensates the injured seaman for food and lodging, which the seaman otherwise receives free while on the ship.”

“The obligation to provide maintenance and cure payments,” however, “does not furnish the seaman with a source of lifetime or long-term disability income.” An eligible seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure only “until he [or she] reaches maximum medical recovery,” i.e., “until such time as the incapacity is declared to be permanent.”

Citing Farrell v. United States, 336 U.S. 511, the Circuit Court noted that the Supreme Court ruled that … “where a seaman has reached the point of maximum medical cure and maintenance and cure payments have been discontinued, the seaman may nonetheless reinstitute a demand for maintenance and cure where subsequent new curative medical treatments become available."

The Circuit Court than cautioned: “The analogy to workers’ compensation, however, can be misleading, because maintenance and cure is a far more expansive remedy. First, although it is limited to 'the seaman who becomes ill or is injured while in the service of the ship,' it is not restricted to those cases where the seaman’s employment is the cause of the injury or illness. '[T]he obligation can arise out of a medical condition such as a heart problem, a prior illness that recurs during the seaman’s employment, or an injury suffered on shore'.”

Further said the court, “the doctrine is ‘so broad’ that ‘negligence or acts short of culpable misconduct on the seaman’s part will not relieve the shipowner of the responsibility.’” Accordingly, the doctrine may apply even if a seaman is injured or falls ill off-duty or while on shore leave, so long as the seamen is “in the service of the ship,” which means he is “generally answerable to its call to duty rather than actually in performance of routine tasks or specific orders.”

Another difference pointed out by the court: a seaman may be entitled to maintenance and cure even for a preexisting medical condition that recurs or becomes aggravated during his or her service.

Accordingly, the Circuit Court remanded the matter to the district court to “proceed to trial on the amount of maintenance and cure due” the seaman.

* 46 United States Code 883.[See, in particular, 46 USC 30104, Personal injury to or death of seamen.]

** A seaman who is required to sue a shipowner to recover maintenance and cure may also recover attorney fees [Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527].

The decision is posted on the Internet at: