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Punitive Damages for Failing to Pay Maintenance or Cure

If you have suffered a maritime injury in the service of a vessel, under the Jones Act, you are entitled to receive maintenance and cure benefits. If your employer has “willfully and wantonly” disregarded their maintenance and cure obligations, and has failed to provide you with the benefits to which you are entitled, you may additionally be permitted to recover “punitive” or “exemplary” damages from your employer.  These damages are designed to discipline employers for improperly failing to provide maintenance and cure to injured seamen, as well as to deter other employers from doing the same.

Denied Maintenance and Cure Benefits

Courtroom, JudgeBeing denied maintenance and cure benefits before reaching maximum medical cure is a violation of the rights of workers at sea unless the employee lied on pre-employment paperwork about a pre-existing condition or the injury was a result of the employee’s own willful misconduct.

Maintenance and Cure is a Right

Under Federal Maritime Law, maintenance and cure benefits are an absolute right to all seaman and maritime employees. Anyone who works in a maritime environment has the right to use these benefits when injured on the job. This even includes workers who, themselves, are at fault for their injuries provided they do not engage in willful misconduct.

Pursuing Additional Compensation for Violation of Rights

In the case of violation of the rights, workers may pursue additional compensation. A Louisiana maritime attorney can provide legal guidance when this is the case.

In the recent 2009 Supreme Court decision of Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, the Court recognized the availability of punitive damages under the Jones Act.  In Atlantic Sounding, a seaman sustained injuries to his arm and shoulder after falling and landing on the deck of a tugboat.  Although the seaman was injured while in the service of the vessel, the tugboat’s owner advised him that he would not be provided with maintenance and cure benefits.  As a result of the shipowner’s improper withholding of maintenance and cure, the Supreme Court allowed the injured employee to seek punitive damages in addition to the benefits withheld.

What to Do in the Case of Denied Maintenance and Cure Benefits

Not providing maintenance and cure benefits – or undue delay in providing these benefits – can give a maritime worker grounds for a legal claim against the employer which may compensate for:

  • overdue benefits;
  • attorney’s fees; and
  • punitive damages.

Punitive damages are a type of compensation designed to punish the defendant and discourage future similar actions; the precedent for providing punitive damages when maintenance and cure benefits have been wrongfully denied was set in 2009 during the Supreme Court case Atlantic Sounding Co. Inc. v. Townsend.

Additionally, if the injury was caused by an employer’s negligence, the victim also may have grounds to file a claim under Jones Act law. Through these claims, a worker may seek compensation for pain, suffering, anguish, additional lost wages and more.


How Can You Fight a Denied Maintenance and Cure Claim?

If your claim for maintenance and cure is denied, there are a couple of things we recommend you do immediately.

  • Write a letter to your company. Let them know how much your monthly expenses are and let them know that you’re not able to pay any of those bills unless they pay you maintenance.
  • Go to a medical doctor who believes he needs to still treat you. Maintenance and cure only apply until you reach maximum cure or maximum improvement. This means that you’re only entitled to maintenance and cure until a medical doctor says that you have improved as much as you will be able to in your condition. So, one of the basic things that you need in order to get your maintenance and cure started or continued is reports from medical doctors saying that you still need medical treatment and that you have not reached maximum cure or maximum improvement.
  • Look into short-term or long-term disability policies.  A lot of companies will discourage employees from applying for short-term/long-term disability. We absolutely disagree with that. If you feel you’re still injured and you have medical doctors supporting that, you should definitely use your short-term/long-term disability if you can.

Contact a Louisiana Attorney for Your Jones Act Case

You should call 504-680-4100 to speak with an attorney at The Young Firm today if you are being denied maintenance and cure benefits. You can also call our Louisiana maritime attorneys if you have any questions at all about your maintenance and cure claim, the denial of it or how you can possibly get it started again.

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