The following are the questions most frequently asked by our clients about Maritime injury cases. Obviously, the questions and answers are very general and may or may not pertain to your case. If you require further information regarding any of these topics, we'll be happy to discuss them with you in greater detail.
If I've been hired to work on a vessel, do I have any right to be compensated
if I suffer an injury or illness?
Yes, but your rights depend upon what you were hired to do, and whether there was any negligence or unseaworthiness involved. To qualify as a crew member, it is not necessary to be directly involved in a vessel's movement from place-to-place, so long as your work contributes to the accomplishment of the vessel's overall mission. For example, processors on factory trawlers or on fish processing ships and food service workers on passenger vessels are crew members. Even marine construction workers on special crafts such as dredges may qualify.
If I am a crew member and there is no negligence or unseaworthiness
involved, what are my rights?
Basically, you are entitled to maintenance (a daily allowance to help support
you), cure (your medical expenses), and wages (a continuation of your pay, at
least for a brief interval, and perhaps longer, depending on the terms of your
Under what circumstances must the above benefits be paid?
Basically, whenever a crew member becomes injured or ill while still in the
service of the vessel. The injury or illness need not be caused by the crew
member's work. Even a crew member who suffers an injury or illness while on
authorized shore leave may be entitled to these benefits, so long as he or she
is "on call" and bound to resume the performance of duties upon command.
If there is negligence or unseaworthiness, are there additional benefits?
Yes. Under Maritime law, if a crew member's injury or illness has been caused
even due to the slightest degree by unseaworthiness, the individual may recover
actual damages. in addition to the basic benefits outlined above. Under Maritime
law, unseaworthiness does not refer to vessels which are just about to sink,
but is rather a very broad term, including any defect or deficiency in a vessel, equipment, supervision or personnel. Under these circumstances, a crew member may collect damages as outlined below.
In a situation where there is negligence or unseaworthiness, am I entitled
to collect the basic benefits while my underlying claim for damages is being
Yes, and your benefits cannot be withheld because you are exploring or proceeding
with an additional claim for damages. If, however, you do recover damages through
a negligence suit, and your employer has already paid some benefits for medical
expenses and unearned wages, you cannot collect twice for the same medical bills
and income loss.
Under basic Maritime law, what are my rights with regard to maintenance,
cure and wages?
Very basically, they are these:
- Maintenance is essentially a cost of living allowance. Maintenance rates are based upon custom, court decisions, proof of the cost of food and lodging ashore comparable to that provided by a crew member's vessel, or contract between the crew member and the vessel. These rates are not set by regulation or legislation. Current typical rates range between $15 and $25 per day.
- Cure consists of the reasonable costs of health care to cure and relieve the consequences of an injury or illness. Crew members ordinarily can choose their own health care providers.
- Wages are payable only to the end of the current pay period during which a crew member becomes injured or ill unless he or she is hired for an agreed interval, such as a fishing season or a particular voyage. In that case, the ship owner must continue to pay the crew member full wages – in addition to maintenance and cure – to the end of the agreed interval of employment, unless the crew member recovers and becomes fit for duty sooner.
How long am I entitled to receive these benefits?
As noted above, wage benefits last only until the end of a current pay period or the end of an agreed contractual interval. Maintenance and cure benefits are payable only until the crew member reaches maximum medical improvement. This is the point at which no further improvement in the medical condition can reasonably be expected. In other words, the individual will get no better with further treatment, nor deteriorate in the absence of treatment. After that, a vessel owner or employer has no further responsibility for maintenance, even if a crew member still cannot return to work. The owner or employer has no responsibility for further medical care, even if continuing care is necessary, unless the crew member can prove that the injury was the result of unseaworthiness or negligence.
If my injuries are a result of negligence or unseaworthiness, what
additional benefits may I be entitled to?
If you can prove that your injury was caused by negligence – or by unseaworthiness, if you are a crew member – you can be compensated for your actual out-of-pocket expenses already suffered, as well as those you can show you will suffer in the future. These include past and future medical expenses, past and future income loss, and loss of earning capacity. Importantly, you would also be entitled to recover general damages to compensate you for the pain and suffering from your injuries, your loss of enjoyment of life, and your past and future inconvenience.
Must I sue to obtain the benefits of maintenance, cure, and wages,
or to obtain additional damages based on negligence or unseaworthiness?
Ideally, it should not be necessary to file suit to obtain the basic wage, maintenance,
and cure benefits. Regrettably, however, delay and avoidance on the part of
vessel owners are quite common. Thus, suit is sometimes required. Realistically,
to obtain compensation on the basis of negligence or unseaworthiness, it is
almost always necessary to make formal claim against the insurer and to be at
least prepared to file suit if that claim is not addressed.
If a suit is brought, when or where will it go to trial, and how long
will it take before I am compensated for my injuries?
Maritime suits may be brought in State or Federal courts, depending upon the
circumstances. Suit may be brought in various jurisdictions, based on place
of employment, place of injury, vessel owner's residence or present location
of the vessel. The choice made in your case would be on the basis of what is
most advantageous to you. As to how long it will take to resolve your case,
the basic guideline is the sooner begun, the sooner resolved. Most vessel owners
or insurers will not rush to compensate injuries, and will settle the case only
when liability has been established and the damages demonstrated. Likewise,
court calendars are congested, so the sooner an action is filed, the sooner
the parties will reach a decision.
Is there any governmental agency that will assist me with my claim?
There is no agency to help crew members or any other persons injured by vessel
negligence. An individual employed by a contractor hired to do some incidental
work for a vessel may be able to make a claim under the Longshoreman-Harborworkers
Act (and we handle such claims), but such a claim cannot be made against a vessel
owner/employer unless there is a specific incidence of negligence. Frequently,
however, individuals who are working in the waters off Alaska may be covered
under the Alaska Workers' Compensation Act. Such coverage does not necessarily
preclude a claim of negligence or unseaworthiness for injuries sustained in
the course of employment.
If I am an injured crew member and have not reached maximum medical
improvement, what impact does it have on my employer's obligations if I attempt
to return to work?
If you were forced back to work because your employer has failed to pay appropriate
benefits, despite knowledge of your injury and continuing disability, the employer
remains fully responsible for all benefits. In addition the employer may be
required to pay your attorneys fees and additional damages to punish the employer
for such conduct. On the other hand, if the employer is meeting its obligations,
but you return to work for financial or other personal reasons, even aboard
another vessel, your cure benefits shall continue, but your earnings would likely
be credited against the employer's unearned wage obligations. If you return
to sea, your maintenance would likely cease.
What if I can't return to the type of work I was doing when I was injured,
or if I cannot ever work again at all?
Since a crew member can collect unearned wages only to the end of the agreed
interval of employment, and since maintenance and cure may be collected only
until maximum medical improvement is reached, such significant losses in wage
earning capacity are compensable only when a claim can be asserted on the basis
of negligence or unseaworthiness. In such a case, these vocational and economic
consequences, including loss of income and retraining expenses, form an important
part of damages.
How is it determined whether I am entitled to recover damages, and
if I am so entitled, how is the amount set?
To determine whether a claim can be brought on the basis of negligence or unseaworthiness,
a fairly extensive investigation is usually required. This ordinarily involves:
obtaining various vessel documents and any statements or reports you may have
made, interviewing witnesses, inspecting and photographing the vessel and any
equipment involved, obtaining advice from experts in various fields and researching
what laws may affect your claim. Additionally, complete medical records concerning
your injuries and income information which would demonstrate economic loss must
be obtained. When we have sufficient information to evaluate both the liability and
damages, we make a comprehensive analysis and share it with you. To help calculate the amount of damages, we subscribe to numerous publications which report jury verdicts and settlement amounts so that we have the benefit of the latest results. We are also members of a number of organizations in which attorneys informally share information about insurers and case value. We will carefully involve you in the process of establishing the value of the case, to be certain that no element of damage is overlooked. Ordinarily, a very comprehensive letter is prepared to be sent to the responsible party or insurer and an attempt is made to resolve the claim on the basis of negotiation. If the response is not adequate, however, we will then prepare the matter for trial. Under some circumstances mediation may be attempted before trial. In all events, should we proceed to trial, a judge or jury would decide what elements of damage you should recover and the amount for each. At trial, our side has the burden of proving by appropriate evidence the amount of damages you are entitled to receive. It has often been said that a good settlement is better than a good lawsuit any day. There is much wisdom in that statement, and we attempt to settle whenever a fair result can be obtained. Such settlements, however, depend upon a prompt investigation of the claim and ample opportunity to establish damages.
What happens if I was partly responsible for my injuries?
If you were a crew member in the service of a vessel and you were injured, fault
has no effect on your rights to receive the benefits of maintenance, cure and
unearned wages. It makes no difference whether your injury resulted entirely
from your own fault, someone else's fault, or nobody's fault. The same is true
if you have a claim which would be covered under the Longshore-Harborworkers
Act. However, if you can prove that you were also entitled to recover damages
because your injuries were caused by vessel negligence or you were a crew member
injured by unseaworthiness, then your recoverable damages would be reduced to
the extent that your own fault contributed to your injury. For example, if the
evidence showed that the vessel fault for negligence or unseaworthiness contributed
75% to cause your injuries – meaning you were 25% at fault – you would be
entitled to collect 75% of your damages.
What is an expert and why must experts be involved in my case?
The law describes an expert as someone with "special training, education
and experience in a particular science, profession or calling." Their opinions,
reports, and testimony are necessary to provide information outside the expertise
of a lay person. Obvious examples are doctors, who provide expert opinions about
the nature and extent of injuries. Other experts frequently used in maritime
claims include marine surveyors, naval architects, engineers, and experienced
seamen, as well as vocational specialists, economists, and accident reconstruction
specialists. It is frequently very important to consult such experts early in the
assessment of the case, and we have access to a large number of highly respected specialists in a variety of fields.
Why do I need a lawyer?
Maritime law is complex. It has developed over the course of many centuries.
It includes many unusual features affecting the rights and obligations of those
involved in maritime activities. It also incorporates complex procedures by
which those rights and obligations are enforced. Most people — and in fact
most lawyers — are unfamiliar with this body of law. Vessel owners, and in
particular their insurers and representatives, have a far greater knowledge
of these laws and procedures than you do. Maritime occupations tend to be dangerous,
and injuries are apt to be serious. With far reaching and costly consequences
to the injury victim, substantial sums tend to be at stake. A capable maritime
lawyer on your side can eliminate the advantage vessel owners and their insurers
have in dealing with your claim. The lawyer can see that the law is correctly
and fairly applied to your case and that all elements of your damages are acknowledged
What can I do to help my own case?
Many people unwittingly damage their own cases by their actions or inactions.
We strongly urge you to bear in mind the following suggestions during the course
of your case:
- Don't discuss your case with anyone other than your attorneys, your physicians
and your immediate family. Statements are frequently distorted or taken out
- Sign nothing dealing with your claim until you receive the approval of your
- Keep careful track of any out-of-pocket expenses you incur, such as bills
for medication, transportation to and from health care facilities or household
help. It will be difficult to obtain repayment for these expenses unless they
are carefully documented in the first place, and such documentation includes
obtaining and keeping records of receipts.
- Keep a record of how your problems are affecting you. This doesn't need
to be a formal diary, but could simply involve notations on a calendar or
date book. The idea is to be able to reconstruct many months or some years
distant what problems actually affected your day-to-day life as a result of
the injury. Any such record will, however, be subject to inspection by the
defense, so it should not include confidential or unrelated materials.
- If a suit is necessary, you can be advised whether mediation, arbitration
or some other method of settling prior to trial is appropriate.
- You can concentrate on recovering from the effects of the accident and leave
the stress of the legal aspects to your attorneys.
We have handled hundreds of injury cases, from small claims to very complex,
major actions. Methods of resolution include settlement, mediation, arbitration
or trial. In our experience, the sooner an attorney begins advising and representing
you, the higher the likelihood you will receive fair compensation for your injuries.
. We have seen many regrettable cases where an injury victim has decided
to "see what the insurance company is going to do" and ended up with
a woefully inadequate offer and, unfortunately, a very badly compromised case.