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Punitive Damages in Maintenance & Cure

Maintenance and cure claims may seem like the commercial seaman’s goldmine, but in reality recovery under maintenance and cure is a burden that the plaintiff must carry.

Recovery for injury to a seaman at sea falls under the Jones Act. All maritime employees are required to maintain Jones Act Insurance. Many individuals fail to realize that an injured seaman may be entitled to punitive damages as a result of an employer’s failure to fulfill a maintenance and cure claim.

Punitive damages are damages designed to punish a defendant for wrongdoing and they generally exceed compensatory damages. According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Atlantic Sounding Co, Inc., v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), a plaintiff does not have to rely on the Jones Act to make a claim for punitive damages. Punitive damages are a long accepted remedy under general maritime law.

Attorney Defending Maintenance and Cure Claims in Washington, California, Alaska, and Oregon

Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC are located at offices in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California, to service clients throughout the area. We file personal injury claims under the Jones Act and other general maritime law claims across the Pacific Northwest.

Our attorneys represent both the plaintiffs and the defendants of maritime injury claims. In the past we have represented longshoremen as land-based non-seamen, who bring claims for personal injury under the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (LHWCA).

Contact our office to learn more about the kinds of services our firm offers, including motions to reinstate and motions to initiate maintenance and cure benefits.

Call 1 (800) 262-8529 now to schedule a confidential consultation with our personal injury and maritime lawyers in Portland, OR, Bellingham and Seattle, WA, or San Francisco, CA.


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Proving Maintenance and Cure

In any maintenance and cure claim, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, slight though it may be. Thus, the plaintiff must show that he was injured or became ill while subject to the call of duty as a seaman. The burden of establishing the amount of maintenance and cure owed to a seaman is also feather light. The plaintiff is required to show the following:

  • the plaintiff was a seaman;
  • the plaintiff was injured or became ill while in the service of a vessel; and
  • the plaintiff was entitled to a certain amount of maintenance and cure benefits.

When a defendant’s failure to provide for maintenance and cure worsens the plaintiff’s injury, then the plaintiff may also recover damages resulting from such injuries, including pain and suffering and additional medical expenses.


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Proving the Defendant Failed to Provide Maintenance and Cure

To obtain punitive damages, it is not enough to simply show that the plaintiff was owed maintenance and cure, a plaintiff must also show that the defendant, willfully and wantonly failed to pay the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff must show that the defendant wantonly, willfully, and recklessly did any of the following:

  • failed to pay maintenance and cure;
  • delayed the plaintiff’s maintenance and cure payment;
  • failed to pay the correct amount of maintenance and cure owed; or
  • terminated a seaman’s maintenance and cure benefits without good cause.

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Useful Definitions for Maintenance and Cure Claims

In order to understand whether an employer intentionally neglected to provide maintenance and cure benefits, it is important to understand what constitutes maintenance benefits and what constitutes cure benefits.

  • Maintenance – benefits include providing for the reasonable costs of room and board of the injured seaman while he or she is recovering from the injury. Maintenance can include expenses like: rent or mortgage, property taxes, homeowners or renter’s insurance, utilities, and food. Maintenance is not paid for the time spent at the hospital.
  • Cure – benefits refer to the reasonable and necessary medical expenses, along with the cost of transportation to and from his or her reasonable and necessary medical treatment.

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Atlantic Sounding Co. Inc. v. Townsend

The question presented to the Court was whether an injured seaman could recover punitive damages for his employer’s willful failure to pay maintenance and cure.

The Court, in an opinion delivered by Justice Thomas, held that a plaintiff could seek to recover punitive damages for his or hers employer’s willful failure to pay maintenance and cure.

Thus, a seaman may seek punitive damages when his or her employer willfully and wantonly fails to pay maintenance and cure claims as required by the Jones Act. The Court’s rationale was, since punitive damages have been an accepted remedy under general maritime law for so long, and nothing in the Jones Act prevented this remedy, such damages for willful and wanton disregard for the maintenance and cure obligation should remain available as a matter of general maritime law. Atlantic Sounding Co. Inc., v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404, 129 S.Ct. 2561, 2563-64 (2009).


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Additional Resources

Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009) – Visit Oyez.org, for a short synopsis of the case, including the decision poll, and the lower court information, the plaintiffs and the defendants, and the Justices sitting on the case. Oyez is a free law project by Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, dedicated to making the U.S. Supreme Court accessible.

Maintenance and Cure; Elements and Burden of Proof — Visit the official website of the United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit for more information about jury instructions regarding proving maintenance and cure claims and what party has the burden of proof.


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Attorneys in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska for Maintenance and Cure Punitive Damages

The admiralty and maritime lawyers at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC represent injured employees of commercial maritime companies. When a seaman is injured in service of a vessel, the law requires the employer to provide maintenance and cure benefits.

Our firm has offices in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California ready to fight for your right to receive benefits. If you or someone you know was injured in service of a vessel, contact Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC.

Call 1 (800) 262-8529 now to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.


This article was last updated on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

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