Maintenance and cure

The Jones Act and maintenance and cure (M&C) are connected by their application to mariners. Otherwise, they are separate and distinct.

Congress decided that U.S. merchant mariners should be able to do what rail workers do — make liability claims against their employers for alleged negligence — so it passed the Jones Act. 

The key to any Jones Act claim is that when a vessel master, owner or member of the crew committed an unseaworthy act or were negligent thus resulting in injury to a seaman, the seaman was then entitled to damages. This includes medical care, rehabilitation, pain and suffering plus other so-called remedies.

Maintenance and cure is founded in general admiralty law and was first developed centuries ago when vessels were at sea for months and years. Under M&C a seaman only needs to show that they were “in service of the ship” at the time of either the illness or injury. This seems like a much lesser standard for claim determination than the Jones Act. There is also a huge body of law under M&C.

The fact that crew illness is also covered under M&C takes many vessel masters and owners by surprise. I’ve seen claims from a toothache to multiple sclerosis and cancer paid under M&C, simply because the crew person was “in service of the ship” at the time of the onset of the disease or illness. Obviously, under M&C there needs to be no fault on the part of the owner, master or crew. However, there does need to be a connection to the ship.

In a recent court case, a vessel owner was found to owe punitive damages for failing to honor an M&C claim because he assumed an illness claim was of no merit.

Don’t make the same mistake.

If one of your crew comes to you with an injury or illness, take it seriously and turn the claim in to your vessel crew insurer. Let the insurer make the determination as to whether the claim is valid. That action alone may protect your assets.


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Workboat Staff

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