Punitive Damages in Maintenance & Cure

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

Recovery for injury to a seaman 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.

Information Center

Back to top

Proving Maintenance and Cure

In any maintenance and cure claim, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. The plaintiff must show that they were injured or became ill while subject to the call of duty as a seaman. The plaintiff is only 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.

Back to top

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 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.

Back to top

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 cost of room and board of the injured seaman while they are recovering from their Maintenance can include expenses such as 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 reasonable and necessary medical treatment.

Back to top

Additional Resources

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.

Back to top

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

The admiralty and maritime lawyers at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, LLP 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, LLP.

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