Legal Rights and Compensation Crew are Entitled to After an Injury on a Cruise Ship

May 26, 2018

Working on a cruise ship can have many benefits. However, just because you are at sea visiting foreign ports of call does not mean that you are immune from suffering an illness, accident, or injury. Unfortunately, and in some cases due to the unique working conditions aboard cruise ships, crewmembers find themselves injured on the job. Fortunately, seafarers and crewmembers are protected by the Jones Act. By law, cruise lines must provide all ill or injured crewmembers, regardless of the reason for the injury or the illness (in all but very limited exceptions), with food, shelter, and medical care. The medical care includes transportation to and from the treatment facility to where the crewmember is staying, as well as all required diagnostic testing, and all prescribed curative care. All of this falls under the vessel’s non-delegable duty to provide maintenance and cure. 

Maintenance and Cure Compensation

Maintenance and cure, while similar in some ways to workers’ compensation, is much more extensive in coverage and nuanced. Whereas Worker’s Compensation covers injuries and illnesses that are within the “course and scope of the employment”, cruise companies are required to assist their employees in recovering and returning to health after a work-related injury and if ill although the illness may have no connection to the course and scope of their particular employment. For example, if a waiter on a cruise ship develops throat cancer, the employer must provide him with Maintenance and Cure even though it had nothing to do with the illness coming to be.

Maintenance and cure is usually an issue in every crewmember injury case. In general, maintenance payments--also known as weekly benefit checks-- are payable to the injured crewmember for the duration of the time that they require medical care. The amount of the payment can be contractually set, but should be no less than what it cost reasonably feed and house the crewmember in the place he is debarked to treat unless provided with food and living quarters at the employers’ expense. Unfortunately, there are companies that attempt to delay or avoid these payments while at the same time not providing the crewmember any food or living quarters, thereby often placing the employee and his or her family in dire financial straits. 

As for the cure, cruise companies are required to provide the medical care, including rehabilitation services, required to cure the ill or injured crewmember not just to stabilize his condition. However, the obligation stops once the crewmember reaches MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement) or MMC (Maximum Medical Cure). What is the difference?  MMI is used when there is no more cure that can be given for the particular condition being treated, ( a herniated disc that is none surgical ) while MMC is used when a fractured bone has healed and the crewmember has completed his rehabilitative physical therapy and is back to where he was before his injury. Obviously, an MMI declaration is much more common than an MMC one.

Seafarers Have a Choice

After an injury on a cruise ship, many crewmembers do not realize that they are entitled to select their own doctors and take an active role in their own healing. Often, the cruise lines will attempt to refer injured employees to foreign-based doctors who, in some cases, may aggravate the situation, or lack the training or skill needed to treat the injury at hand. This can do more harm than good, and may lead to a longer and less than optimal recovery. To avoid this, remember that you should not hesitate to make your needs known and insist upon receiving only the highest quality medical care available within your employers network in your home country and if that is subpar, to demand to be care for in a country where the employer is medical care network is of better quality. Remember you are not be entitled to be treated in a particular place or with a particular doctor absent you having the ability to get there legally or you paying for it, or your lawyer obtaining it for you. However, you do have the right to prompt, proper and adequate medical care at your employers’ expense.

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You Can Hold Your Employer Accountable 

Ultimately, if you are a crewmember and suffer an injury or illness while in the service of your vessel you have a right to medical care and the fullest possible recovery. What does “in the service of the vessel mean “ - on your job, while traveling to and from your job, off the ship on ship’s business or even while on land recuperating from a ship board injury or illness and befall a new injury or sickness. -  You deserve safe and healthy work conditions, so that you can perform your job with ease. Therefore, if you believe that you have had your rights violated, and are seeking satisfactory results; it may serve you to speak with maritime lawyers who understand. Our team is committed to ensuring that all companies uphold their legal agreements to provide work conditions that keep every crewmember out of harm’s way. So if you have questions about your case, do not hesitate to contact us.