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The Rights of Tug Employees to Maintenance and Cure

If you work on a tug, you may be entitled to maintenance and cure in the event that you are injured or become ill while at work or if an injury or illness is aggravated during your service of the tug. Maintenance is a per diem living allowance for food and lodging comparable to what the seaman is entitled to while at sea and is set by the collective bargaining agreement between your employer and the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (IBU). Medical cure is the payment of medical expenses incurred in treating the tug worker’s injury or illness. Your employer’s duty to pay maintenance and cure continues until the tug employee reached the point of maximum medical cure from the injury or illness, the condition permanently stabilizes, or cannot be improved any further with medical treatment.

The maritime law imposes a broad standard of coverage for tug employees who are injured or become sick while at work. Any doubts whether or not coverage should apply are resolved in favor of the tug worker. In order to show entitlement to coverage, a tug employee needs to only show: (1) that they are employed on a tug or other vessel; (2) their injury occurred, manifested, or were aggravated while in the service of the tug or vessel; (3) the amount to which they are entitled under the collective bargaining agreement; and (4) the amount of any expenditures for medicines, medical treatment, board, and lodging.  The only narrow exceptions to maintenance and cure is in cases of (1) willful concealment of a disabling condition or misrepresentation of a medical condition at the time of initial employment; (2) willful misconduct, including fighting or gross inebriation; or (3) willful disobedience of a lawful order.

Once your tug employer begins paying maintenance and cure, it cannot stop paying these benefits unless the medical evidence establishing that the tug worker has reached maximum medical cure is unequivocal. See, e.g., Dean v. Fishing Company of Alaska, 2013 Wash. LEXIS 412 (Wa. Sup. Ct. May 9, 2013). This means there must be no medical evidence from a physician in support of the tug worker’s position that further medical treatment will benefit the seaman’s medical condition. If the doctors from the company and the treating doctor are at odds over whether maximum medical cure has been reached, your tug employer may not terminate maintenance and cure.

Although your employer is obligated to pay for medical treatment, it does not have the right to direct a tug employee to a particular doctor, clinic, or treatment. It is up to the injured tug worker and their doctors to determine the best course of action for their medical condition. Moreover, your employer cannot ask you to attend an “independent medical examination” as a condition of receiving additional maintenance and cure.

Although the right to maintenance and cure typically comes up in the context of an injury on the tug, the concept applies equally to any illness or medical condition that manifests (becomes symptomatic) or is aggravated while in the service of the vessel. A variety of medical conditions could come under this umbrella from heart conditions, cancer, hearing loss, back pain, knee pain, arthritis, or any other medical condition that becomes symptomatic or aggravated during the service of the tug.

If your employer fails to pay maintenance and cure that is owed under maritime law, the tug worker may pursue damages for failure to pay maintenance and cure, including compensatory damages for an aggravation of the tug worker’s condition caused by the failure to obtain proper medical attention, damages for pain and suffering, punitive damages if the failure to pay was willful and persistent, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs related to the action to enforce the tug employee’s right to maintenance and cure.

As a tug worker, it is important that you understand your rights to maintenance and cure in the event that you get sick or hurt on the vessel or an underlying condition is aggravated while in the service of the vessel. In addition, you should know that you may be entitled to further compensation under the Jones Act and general maritime law if you can establish that an unsafe condition on the tug caused or contributed to your injury or condition. Under the Jones Act and general maritime law, you may be able to collect damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, the costs of retraining, and your economic losses.

While this blog attempts to inform tug employees of their rights and the maritime law relevant to those rights, it is not legal advice or a substitute for detailed analysis of the specific facts of your case with an experienced maritime lawyer.  For that reason, we offer a free initial consultation for any tug employee with an experienced maritime lawyer to analyze the specific facts of your entitlement to maintenance and cure.  For any questions you may have concerning your entitlement to maintenance and cure or Jones Act compensation, contact our experienced maritime lawyers.