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What is the Doctrine of Maintenance and Cure?

If you work as an able-bodied (AB) seaman or have another position on a seafaring vessel, at some point while carrying out your duties, you might get injured. What happens next?

A person who gets injured on the water has additional rights that extend beyond workers' compensation benefits. All workers on land or sea have a right to be paid for:

  • medical expenses
  • lost wages
  • permanent partial disability compensation

Maritime law goes a bit farther and provides for financial compensation for maintenance, cure and unearned wages.

The owners of the vessels have a duty to cover expenses related to the seaman's illness or injuries that occurred on the job. The obligation is not mitigated by a vessel's unseaworthiness or the AB seaman's negligence or fault.

Seamen also can make claims for unearned wages while undergoing treatment for said illness or injury until they are once again fit for duty -- or until the time that the voyage on which the injury or illness occurred comes to an end. These rights arise out of the employment relationship.

Maintenance is a daily sum that is paid as compensation for the seamen's room and board expenses that are typically covered on the vessel. Maintenance begins the day that the seamen leave the vessel, not on the day of the illness or injury.

Per diem maintenance rates are generally rather low, usually in the range of $20 to $30 a day, and most courts don't award higher rates.

Maintenance payments end when the seamen reach their maximum medical cure. It doesn't matter if their disability is permanent and they can no longer work as AB seamen.

"Cure" refers to seamen's right to medical treatment until they are fit for duty or they reach the maximum medical stability.

Because of the complexities of admiralty and maritime law, it is often helpful to retain an attorney to pursue legal action in these type of cases.

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