Working on a sea vessel in New York is different than working at a job on dry land. In the former case, if you become injured on the job, you do not receive workers' compensation. Instead, if the Jones Act applies, you receive maintenance and cure benefits. At Tabak Mellushi & Shisha, we know these terms can be confusing. "Cure" refers compensation for your medical expenses, while "maintenance" refers to a daily stipend intended to cover your day-to-day expenses.
When those whose work involves sailing out of Manhattan's ports are injured during their voyages, their concerns typically center on three important elements: wages, maintenance and cure. One might think that an employer can argue that while a seafarer is not working that they do not deserve to be paid, federal law requires that any wages that would have been earned after their injuries occurred be paid out. This obligation to pay unearned wages continues until the voyage ends.
Like any job in Manhattan, your work in the maritime industry requires you to do several repetitive tasks. The stress that such tasks place on your body can result in injuries over time. Such injuries may require treatment in order for you to perform daily tasks (much less perform the functions of your job). Even though the causes of such injuries are work-related, many still come to us here at Tabak Mellusi & Shisha LLP wondering whether the nature of such injuries disqualifies them from being covered by maintenance and cure benefits.
Given the risks associated with employment in the maritime industry, it is easy to imagine one who is injured at sea requiring an extensive recovery period in Manhattan before he or she is fit to return to work (that is, if he or she is indeed able to return to work at all). The financial losses that result from not being able to work for a significant period of time can be massive, yet in the case the of maritime workers injured while employed in the service of their vessels, maintenance and cure benefits are meant to mitigate them.
Many of the maritime workers in Manhattan who have been injured while on the job find that while the maintenance and cure payments they are entitled to receive are helpful, they are often not enough to cover both their injury-related expenses as well as the cost of daily living. Thus, they may be put in a position of needing to seek more compensation. Some employers might offer an advance on a seaman's wages on top of maintenance and cure payments. While this might seem advantageous, one should consider the implications of accepting such assistance.
You understand that there are certain risks associated with your career in the maritime industry. You also take comfort in the knowledge that there are laws in place and organizations working to help protect you from those risks. One such law is the Jones Act, which entitles you to maintenance and cure to help deal with the expenses that accompany injuries you sustain at sea. You might also be afforded certain protections through your membership in a labor union. Yet several of the clients that we here at Tabak, Mellusi & Shisha LLP have worked with have been surprised to learn the sometimes those two support venues can be at odds with each other.
For those in Manhattan who work at sea, it may seem as though every day that an employment-related injury keeps them stuck on the shore represents lost wages and benefits. Fortunately, there are specific rules and regulations in place that entitle such an individual to maintenance and cure. As has been detailed on this blog before, maintenance is meant to cover all of a wounded sea worker's daily expenses, while cure helps in paying their medical costs. Yet before one injured while on the high seas (or preparing to embark for them) begins to plan on receiving this benefit, he or she should first seek to understand if he or she evens qualifies for it.
An injury suffered in the service of a vessel may render a seaman unable to support him- or herself in New York. Often, swift medical attention is needed to prevent the damage from worsening. Having a safe place to stay during treatment may also be critical to recovery. Without maintenance and cure to cover the costs of these, a seaman may suffer more harm. However, taking the company to court may be a time-consuming and costly endeavor that further harms the seaman's financial status.
After a serious injury aboard a vessel, you may expect the owner to pay for your medical expenses as you convalesce in New York. However, in some cases, seamen have had to take their employers to court in order to receive maintenance and cure that the law says should be theirs. In one case reported by FindLaw, the court found in favor of the men who were injured in a barge accident.
When a New York seaman is injured on a vessel, the owner is required to pay for medical bills, lodging, transportation and food until the seaman either returns to work or improves as much as he or she can under medical care. According to the U.S. Courts for the Ninth Circuit, these expenses are known as maintenance and cure and are rights that seamen have as long as they can fulfill the burden of proof.