Articles Posted in Maintenance and Cure

An engine room fire was reported yesterday afternoon aboard the 334-foot fishing vessel ARCTIC STORM off the Washington Coast, about 30 miles west of Gray’s Harbor.  The vessel’s crew reported the fire at approximately 3:30 p.m., notifying the Coast Guard that there was an uncontrollable engine room fire.  At the time the fire broke out, there were 120 crewmembers aboard.

5-21-2013 photo arctic stormThe Coast Guard dispatched two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews from Air Station Astoria and three 47-foot motor lifeboat crews to the scene.  The Coast Guard also notified other ships in the area of the emergency via an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast.

The crew of the ARCTIC STORM was able to get the fire under control later in the evening before the Coast Guard arrived on scene, using the Halon chemical firefighting system aboard the ship.  However, as of yesterday evening it was still too hot to enter the engine room and assess the damage.

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The Washington State Supreme Court ruled en banc yesterday in Dean v. The Fishing Company of Alaska, Inc., a case involving wrongful termination of a seaman’s right to maintenance and cure.  The court ruled that where a seaman’s maintenance and cure have been cut off by the vessel owner, the seaman is entitled to have these benefits reinstated pending trial unless the vessel owner can provide unequivocal evidence that the seaman has reached maximum cure.

Facts Of The Dean Case:

Ian Dean worked aboard a fishing vessel owned by The Fishing Company of Alaska (FCA).  Dean, standing 6 feet 3 inches tall, was assigned to work in an area with a low overhead and thus had to work stooped over.  While aboard the vessel, Dean developed pain in his neck and hands.  When he left the vessel, he sought medical treatment and FCA began paying maintenance and cure, as required by general maritime law (for more information on a seaman’s right to maintenance and cure, click here).  After paying Dean’s maintenance and cure for just over three years, FCA stopped paying when it obtained the opinion of a physician that Dean’s injuries had reached maximum cure.  At the time when FCA cut off Dean’s maintenance and cure, Dean’s own physician opined that Dean’s injuries could benefit from additional treatment.

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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.

 Under maritime law, a Washington State Ferry employee who is a member of the crew of a ferry is entitled to maintenance and cure if they are injured or become ill while in the service of the vessel.  You are entitled to coverage if the condition manifest or was aggravated while in the service of the ferry.  Under some circumstances, you may be entitled to maintenance and cure even if you are not on the vessel.  Some commutes to work are covered, passage through WSF property or property adjacent to the dock are covered, or other situations where your activities have a benefit to your employer.  If you are not sure if you are covered, contact an experienced maritime lawyer to discuss the facts of your specific situation.  Maintenance and cure is a broad entitlement under maritime law and any doubts must be resolved in favor of coverage for the seaman.  Your employer may be subject to penalties or damages for failure to promptly and properly pay maintenance and cure.

Maintenance is a daily stipend or payment while you receive curative medical treatment for your condition.  The amount of your maintenance entitlement is set by the collective bargaining agreement with your union and the WSF. 

Medical cure is the cost of medical treatment reasonably required to address your injury or illness.  You are entitled to select your own doctors and medical providers.  Your employer cannot withhold medical cure if you refuse to see a doctor or medical provider selected by WSF.  You are also entitled to a second opinion if you are considering medical options. 

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