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Understanding who qualifies as a seaman

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.

Per maritime law, the following elements must be present in cases involving maintenance and cure:

  • The plaintiff qualifies as a seaman
  • He or she sustained injury while in the service of the vessel
  • The vessel was in navigation (or on navigable waters)

How does one prove him or herself to be a seaman? He or she does not; rather, the law does. The definition established by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals states that one must demonstrate an employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation to be legally considered a seaman. It goes to say that an “employment-related connection” exists when one’s job functions contribute to a vessel’s daily function and/or the overall success of its mission. Furthermore, the connection must also be substantial in duration and nature. Thus, one performing contracted work for only a short period of time on a vessel may not qualify for maintenance and cure. That may change if his or her contract requires extended work over long periods of time, or he or she comes directly under the employ of the ship (or its shipping company).

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