Jones Act—Understanding Maintenance and Cure for Maritime Workers
As a merchant seaman or commercial fisherman, you may have heard the phrase “maintenance and cure” at one point or another, particularly if you or a crewmate have been injured on the job. Maintenance and cure are remedies afforded under the Jones Act for qualified seamen who are injured on the job.
Maintenance and Cure
As a seaman, when you are injured on the job, you are entitled to certain benefits while healing from the injury. These benefits are known as maintenance and cure (M&C). What is unique about these benefits is that you don’t have to prove who caused your injury. As long as you are injured or become ill in the service of your vessel, you can collect these benefits until you have recovered.
Admiralty law provides that when a maritime worker is injured during the course of employment, which can also mean being injured while off-duty on an ocean-going vessel, you are allowed to receive maintenance during the course of your recovery. Employers of maritime workers are already required to assist their laborers with lodging expenses while those workers complete their jobs on the ship. Maintenance help for injured maritime workers includes:
- Any rent or mortgage
- Basic utilities
While the concept of maintenance does provide assistance with certain utilities, these utilities covered are usually considered as necessities. So, maintenance does not cover utilities like:
- Car payments
Rent or mortgage, utilities, taxes, and insurance are necessary household expenses, while telephone, cable, and internet are not necessary household expenses. Car payments and gasoline are not covered under maintenance because they are not technically household expenses.
If you are hospitalized as a result of your injury or illness, you will not receive maintenance because lodging and food are included in your stay.
Cure means any medical expenses and transportation expenses associated with receiving medical treatment, that your employer must pay after you incur an injury on the job. Cure is comparable to workers’ compensation in other industries, with the premise being that the injured party should not have to pay for the medical expenses associated with recovery if they are injured on the job. You should expect to have the following expenses paid for directly by your employer:
- physician and hospital bills
- surgery costs
- lab and radiology tests like MRIs
- durable medical equipment like wheelchairs and braces
- transportation to and from medical appointments
How Do Maintenance and Cure Work?
Maritime workers that are injured on the job can qualify for the amount of benefits designated to have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI does not always imply full recovery, but it does suggest that you are as recovered as you will ever be.
Before you may receive M&C benefits, you must prove:
- You are a qualified seaman;
- You were injured in the service of your vessel (regardless of whether you were on-duty);
- How much M&C benefits you are entitled to.
Here are a few other important points about how M&C benefits are collected:
- Injured maritime workers receiving M&C typically receive payments once a week, or twice a month from the employer or the employer’s insurance.
- Medical bills are usually taken care of by the employer, and not billed to the injured employee.
- Employers, because of recent court decisions, are required to pay the injured maritime worker’s real household expenses.
- If an injured laborer is part of a union, you may receive a certain stipulated maintenance rate that may be less than your household expenses, depending on your union. There are exceptions to this rule, though. Sometimes the union contract maintenance requirements only apply in certain states or localities.
- Illnesses are also covered by the M&C rule, especially if you wind up extremely sick while working for your employer.
These benefits are separate from a Jones Act claim for damages. If you are making a claim under the Jones Act, you will not receive an award for your medical bills if you have already had them covered by your employer under M&C.
You are legally entitled to receive benefits if you are injured or fall ill while in service of your vessel. If your employer fails to provide these benefits to you, you are entitled to damages for their failure to pay.