Claims for Injured “Seamen”
Maintenance and Cure. A vessel operator must provide a seaman “maintenance and cure” when the seaman is injured during employment. This is true regardless of whether the operator is at-fault for or caused the seaman’s injuries. This obligation requires the operator to pay reasonable, related room and board expenses (maintenance), medical expenses (cure), and unpaid wages for the part of the employment the seaman is unable to complete. An operator may also be subject to paying additional sums, including punitive damages, in cases where the operator willfully fails to comply with its maintenance and cure obligations.
Unseaworthiness. A vessel operator must provide seamen with a seaworthy vessel. This means the operator must provide a reasonably safe vessel staffed with a crew that is reasonably capable of performing tasks safely. To recover for injuries the operator’s failure to provide a seaworthy vessel causes, a seaman does not need to prove the operator failed to exercise reasonable care in failing to provide such a vessel. The seaman only needs to prove the operator provided a vessel in a temporary or permanent condition that rendered it not reasonably fit for its intended purpose, and that the vessel’s unsafe condition caused the seaman’s injury.
Jones Act Negligence. While seamen historically had no right to sue an employer for injuries the employer caused, the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, provides a seaman injured in the service of the vessel with a statutory negligence claim. Thus, a seaman injured by an employer may recover for injuries by proving an employer failed to exercise reasonable care, which includes a failure to exercise reasonable care to provide a safe place to work, and that the employer’s failure caused the seaman’s injuries.