Maintenance, Cure and Unearned Wages: The Ancient Protections for Seamen

Since at least 1823, our courts have recognized that the perils of seafaring life necessitate unique protections for mariners. Consequently, under general maritime law and the Jones Act, any injured seaman is entitled to maintenance, cure, and unearned wages for injuries incurred in the course of their service to their ship. These payments are “virtually automatic” and – for maintenance and cure – are paid until the seaman has reached maximum medical improvement.

But many seamen are unfamiliar with these benefits and, sadly, lack the representation capable of effectively enforcing them. Finding an attorney versed in the maritime law is the first step to obtaining the benefits you are owed.

Qualifying for Maintenance & Cure, and Unearned Wages—

To qualify for maintenance, cure, and unearned wages, seamen must first show that (1) they were employed as seamen, (2) their injuries or illnesses occurred, manifested, or were aggravated while in the ship’s service, (3) the wages to which they are entitled, and (4) the cost of their medical treatment, board, and lodging.

Once the showing has been made, and without regard to fault, a seaman who is injured or who becomes ill in the course of their service to their vessel is entitled to (1) maintenance, (2) cure, and (3) unearned wages.

Maintenance—Basic Living Expenses

Maintenance benefits cover basic living expenses: your food, rent, utilities, and basic transportation. Payments for maintenance are required from the last day unearned wages are due until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement.

Cure—Reasonable and Necessary Medical Treatment

Cure requires a shipowner to pay for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment until the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement. Reasonable and necessary treatment includes curative as well as palliative care and the seaman has the right to choose their provider. Any out-of-pocket expenses paid by the seaman during the curative care must be reimbursed by the vessel owner. This includes prescriptions and typical insurance contributions such as deductibles, copays, or out of network expenses.

Unearned wages—

Finally, a seaman is entitled to unearned wages through the end of the voyage during which they were injured. The scope covered includes all amounts that a seaman reasonably expected to earn during a given pay period: overtime pay, tips, and other employment benefits.

Maximum Medical Improvement—

Because maintenance and cure are tied to maximum medical improvement, understanding the concept is crucial to understanding your benefits. Basically, a seaman reaches maximum medical improvement when the underlying medical condition will not get better with more care. This means maximum medical improvement may be determined when a condition is cured or diagnosed as permanent or incurable. Although many employers often claim that MMI has been reached, this determination is properly for the seaman’s doctor. Wrongful termination of maintenance and cure benefits can result in additional liabilities to an employer.

This article provides only a primer on the basics of maintenance, cure, and unearned wage benefits owed to seamen injured during the course of their service to a ship. But the attorneys at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner have decades of experience, handling maritime cases and know how to fight for what you are owed. If you or a loved one has been injured in an offshore accident, call us today at 713-396-3964 or 1-800-594-4884 for a free consultation.