Maintenance and Cure FAQ

What is maintenance and cure?

“Maintenance” refers to the employer’s duty to provide an injured seaman with food and lodging while the seaman is off the vessel and not able to work because of injury or illness which began when the seaman was working for his employer.Maintenance only covers out-of-pocket expenses which the injured or ill seaman has actually incurred. If the plaintiff incurs no expense or liability for care and support while recovering from his injuries, he may not claim maintenance. Johnson v. U.S., 333 U.S. 46, 50, 68 S.Ct. 391, 393-94, 92 L.Ed. 468 (1948). In other words, if an injured seaman lives at home with a relative and is neither charged for lodging or food, nor expected to pay for his lodging or food at some time in the future, he may not recover maintenance. Gosnell v. Sea-Land Service, Inc., 782 F.2d 464, 468 (4th Cir. 1986). On the other hand, if the seaman has agreed to pay for these expenses after he becomes able to return to work or to reimburse someone for these expenses out of his recovery against his employer, the seaman may recover. Barnes v. Andover, L.P., 900 F.2d 630, 641 (3d Cir. 1990); McCormick Shipping Corp. v Duvalier, 311 F.2d 933, 934 (5th Cir. 1963).

If you are a member of a union, your employer may have to pay maintenance only as specified in your union’s collective bargaining agreement.

A seaman who wants to make a maintenance claim must keep track of his share of lodging expenses and food expenses that he has incurred while he was unable to work.

“Cure” refers to the employer’s duty to provide medical care to a seaman who is injured or becomes ill while in the service of the vessel. Aguilar v. Standard Oil of New Jersey, 318 U.S. 724, 730, 63 S.Ct. 930, 87 L.Ed. 1107 (1943). A seaman has a right to recover the reasonable cost of medical treatment for injuries or sickness sustained in the service of the vessel, up to the time of trial, and such amounts as may be needful in the immediate future. Calmar S.S. Corp. v. Taylor, 303 U.S. 525, 531-32, 58 S.Ct. 651, 655, 82 L.Ed. 993 (1938). Like maintenance, cure refers only to medical expenses which the seaman has actually incurred. He cannot sue his employer for medical expenses which his employer has already paid, or for medical care which another has furnished free of charge. Gosnell v. Sea-Land Service, Inc., 782 F.2d 464, 468 (4th Cir. 1986).

Who is entitled to maintenance and cure?

Any seaman who is injured or becomes ill in the service of the vessel to the point that he or she cannot serve aboard the vessel is entitled to make a claim for maintenance and cure for the period of time that the seaman cannot do a seaman’s work. Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531, 82 S.Ct. 997, 8 L.Ed.2d 88 (1962).

Who is responsible to pay maintenance and cure?

The seaman’s employer when he became injured or ill is responsible to pay maintenance and cure. Wheatley v. Gladden, 660 F.2d 1024 (4th Cir. 1981).

How long is my employer responsible to pay maintenance and cure?

An employer’s obligation to pay maintenance and cure continues while the seaman is unable to do a seaman’s work, up to the point that his or her condition can no longer be improved by further medical care. Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 531, 82 S.Ct. 997, 8 L.Ed.2d 88 (1962). “It is the duty of the ship to maintain and care for the seaman… until he is so far cured as possible.” Tuttle v. American Oil Co., 292 F.2d 123, 129 (4th Cir. 1961). Once the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement, even though he may need medication in the future because of his injuries, the employer’s obligation to pay maintenance and cure ends.

Do I have to prove fault to recover maintenance and cure?

The answer is “No.”

What defenses does my employer have to a maintenance and cure claim?

A seaman’s employer cannot defend a maintenance and cure claim on grounds of the seaman’s negligence. However, if the seaman became ill or injured as a result of willful misbehavior, willful concealment of his medical condition from his employer at the beginning of employment, or he rejects medical care offered by his employer, he may not be entitled to recover maintenance and cure.

When do I need to file my claim for maintenance and cure?

The same limitation periods apply to a claim for maintenance and cure as to a Jones Act negligence claim and a claim for unseaworthiness. See When do I have to file my Jones Act Claim? under the Jones Act FAQs.