If you are a merchant seaman or commercial fisherman and you sustain an injury on the job, maritime law entitles you to maintenance and cure benefits regardless of who was at fault for your accident. These benefits must continue for the duration of your recovery and until your doctor determines you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement.
The “maintenance” part of maintenance and cure benefits covers necessary household expenses. This includes mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, taxes and other necessary costs. The concept of maintenance stems from employers’ obligation to provide seamen with room and board while serving on a ship. Once upon a time, it was standard for maritime employers to pay seamen a standard “maintenance rate.” Today, however, employers cannot legally do that. Nolo explains what the proper rate for maintenance is in recent years.
The proper maintenance rate under maintenance and cure
For many years, maritime employers set maintenance rates themselves and based on what it cost to house a seaman aboard a ship. As a result, it and insurers paid sick or injured workers a measly $8 to $10 a day, which amounted to approximately $240 to $300 per month. This was the case regardless of a seaman’s actual living expenses. Recent court rulings, however, put an end to this.
Today, maritime employers must pay seamen maintenance rates that match their actual household expenses. Whether a seaman lives in a modest home with expenses that hover around $1,100 per month or he or she lives in an upscale neighborhood and pays nearly $3,000 a month in household expenses, maintenance must be sufficient for the employee to maintain his or her lifestyle during recovery.
Union membership may affect your rates
The one exception to the new rule regarding maintenance is if you are a union member. If this is the case, check your contract for details regarding maintenance rates. If your contract states that union members will receive $500 in maintenance benefits for each month of recovery, then, unfortunately, $500 is your rate.
As a maritime employee, the law entitles you to maintenance and cure if you should sustain an injury or illness on the job. However, maritime employers do not always abide by the law or pay a fair rate. If this is the case for you, seek help asserting your rights.