Maintenance and cure is a benefit that seamen receive when they are injured or become ill while in the service of the ship. A seaman is entitled to this daily living allowance and payment of medical treatment irrespective of fault.
For shipowners, fighting maintenance and cure benefits are tough. There are few defenses. Generally, the benefits are not owed if the injury or illness resulted from intentional misconduct or intoxication. The legal obligation to provide maintenance and cure can also be excused if it is shown that the seaman had willfully misrepresented a pre-existing physical or medical condition when he applied for his job and that the injury or illness is related to that pre-existing condition.
Until recently, Jones Act employers sometimes took legal action against seamen to recover maintenance and cure payments made before discovering that seamen had misrepresented their medical histories or pre-existing physical conditions. In July, however, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the employer’s right to recover back maintenance and cure payments.
In Boudreaux v. Transocean Deepwater Inc., the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s ruling that allowed Transocean to sue its employee to recover back maintenance and cure benefits. Transocean said the employee concealed a pre-existing back condition (which was found to be related to his claimed on-the-job injury) when he initially applied for his job. In denying the right to pursue recovery of maintenance and cure benefits that were thus wrongfully paid, the Fifth Circuit was heavily influenced by the near-absolute remedies afforded to seamen by virtue of their employment relationship with the employer. This includes entitlement to a daily living allowance and medical treatment for work related injuries.
Transocean was found not to have a “right of action” to recoup maintenance and cure paid to the dishonest seaman.
Employers can still deny maintenance and cure to a seaman who has concealed his medical history when the misrepresentation is related to the decision to hire the seaman and his subsequent claimed injury.