In some cases, the shipowner will contest the seamen's initial entitlement to maintenance and cure. In those cases, the seaman can file a motion to compel maintenance and cure. In fact, the only recourse which the seaman has when the shipowner fails to pay maintenance and cure is by way of a lawsuit.
The shipowner might refuse to pay because of a challenge to the plaintiff's status as a seaman or a challenge as to whether the seaman was injured in the service of the vessel. If the shipowner refuses to commence maintenance and cure, it bears the burden of establishing that it had a legitimate reason for refusing.
The maritime lawyers in Washington help our clients file motions to compel maintenance and cure claims in the States of Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska. With offices in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California, the attorneys at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski are ready to help. Call us to discuss your maintenance and cure benefits.
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To obtain maintenance and cure benefits, the seaman must meet the initial burden of proving:
In some cases, the shipowner may also ask the court to find, as a matter of law, that it does not have a duty to pay maintenance and cure because the shipowner has a valid defense. A seaman's initial entitlement to maintenance and cure presents legal questions that can be resolved by the court.
The shipowner may move for an expedited trial under CR 42(b).4 In an expedited trial, the shipowner has to meet the summary judgment standard, i.e., has to prove that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, meaning the seaman has reached maximum cure, and that the shipowner, as the movant, are entitled to judgement as a matter of law. The same applies to injured seamen when they move for an expedited trial.
The extent of a seaman's injuries and whether a seaman has reached maximum cure are factual questions, not legal questions. See SCHOENBAUM, supra, § 6–33, at 393.
Despite the general rule that a seaman's maintenance and cure claim should not be disposed of on summary judgment, numerous federal district courts have used summary judgment to determine a seaman's initial entitlement to maintenance and cure.
There is a strong policy in favor of providing maintenance and cure to an injured seaman. The reasons for this long-standing policy were provided by Justice Story:
[T]he protection of seamen, who, as a class, are poor, friendless and improvident, from the hazards of illness and abandonment while ill in foreign ports; the inducement to masters and owners to protect the safety and health of seamen while in service; the maintenance of a merchant marine for the commercial service and maritime defense of the nation by inducing men to accept employment in an arduous and perilous service.
Calmar S. S. Corp. v. Taylor, 303 U.S. 525, 528, 58 S.Ct. 651, 82 L.Ed. 993 (1938) (quoting Harden v. Gordon, 11 F. Cas. 480, 483 (C.C.D. Me. 1823)).
The courts have said that “the merit of the seaman's right to maintenance and cure [is] that it is so inclusive as to be relatively simple, and can be understood and administered without technical considerations. It has few exceptions or conditions to stir contentions, cause delays, and invite litigations.” Farrell v. United States, 336 U.S. 511, 516, 69 S.Ct. 707, 93 L.Ed. 850 (1949).
An important canon of admiralty law that “[w]hen there are ambiguities or doubts, they are resolved in favor of the seaman.” Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 532, 82 S.Ct. 997, 8 L.Ed.2d 88 (1962).
To obtain maintenance and cure, Plaintiff must show that he incurred an injury while a seaman in the service of a vessel. The shipowner's duty to provide maintenance and cure is “[s]o broad ... that negligence or acts short of culpable misconduct on the seaman's part will not relieve [the shipowner] of the responsibility.” Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co. of N.J., 318 U.S. 724, 730–31, 63 S.Ct. 930, 1943 A.M.C. 451 (1943).
One issue in these cases is whether the plaintiff qualifies as a Jones Act “seaman” at the time of the injury. Seaman status is a mixed question of fact and law. Even repairing the vessel can make the employee a “seaman,” and not a land-based worker, within the admiralty definition. See generally Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995).
If a shipowner refuses to pay maintenance and cure to an injured seaman from the outset, the seaman may sue and bring a motion for summary judgment requesting the court find, as a matter of law, that the seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure.
In these cases, the court will consider the seaman's summary judgment motion for maintenance and cure. The only recourse which the seaman has when the shipowner fails to pay maintenance and cure is by way of a lawsuit for maintenance and cure.
With offices in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California, our maritime lawyers at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call us today at 1 (800) 262-8529 for a no obligation consultation.
This article was last updated on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.