5 Facts About Maintenance & Cure Benefits

May 6, 2024 @ 3:32 pm

Maritime work can be financially rewarding and exciting, but it’s also one of the most dangerous jobs you can have. The physical demands, operational hazards, long hours, remote locations, and environmental conditions all intensify the risks of an already high-stakes industry where injuries can—and often do—happen without warning. 

With this in mind, maritime workers need to be familiar with the Jones Act and the maintenance and cure (M&C) benefits this act provides to seamen who get hurt offshore. Here are five key facts to get you started:

Maintenance and cure is not worker’s compensation. 

M&C is similar to worker’s compensation in that it offers benefits to workers for a job-related injury or illness. However, M&C is rooted in the conventions of general maritime law and the Jones Act, which is federal legislation that provides certain rights and remedies to maritime workers. 

While worker’s compensation benefits vary by state, the rules governing M&C are determined at the federal level for all maritime workers in the United States. M&C claims are typically handled through federal courts. Therefore, while an attorney may have extensive experience in worker’s compensation claims, they may not be knowledgeable about maritime injuries and M&C claims.

M&C covers maintenance and cure benefits only. 

Unlike more generalized terms, M&C specifies exactly the two benefits it covers—maintenance and cure.

Maintenance addresses the issue of what is needed to maintain a worker from day to day while they’re recovering from an injury or illness. Maintenance equates to necessary living expenses like food, clothing, housing and utilities, for example. The idea is that room and board are typically a condition of maritime employment, so a seaman who is sick or is hurt offshore because of the job they hold is entitled to basic household living expenses while they’re recovering.

Cure addresses the issue of a worker’s maritime injury or illness and the medical expenses associated with it. Medical costs covered under cure typically include everything from doctor’s visits and hospitalizations to diagnostics, surgeries, medication, equipment and rehabilitation. However, cure benefits extend only until maximum medical improvement—MMI—is achieved.

The term “maximum medical improvement” is essential to understand. That’s because reaching MMI does not mean that a person is fully recovered or even able to work. It simply means that a medical review has determined that a person’s condition has stabilized to a point where further treatment is unlikely to result in significant improvement.

A person may still need ongoing medical treatment, monitoring or specialized care to maintain their overall health and well-being. Yet according to M&C, they may have officially reached MMI and the end of their cure benefits. Their maintenance benefits may also be re-assessed and adjusted. In those cases, individuals may need to dispute their status or pursue benefits through other provisions of the Jones Act or legal venues.

M&C is a no-fault benefit available specifically for seamen. 

This is important because M&C covers all injuries as well as any illnesses that a worker might suffer simply because they’re working on a certain vessel at a certain time and place.

  • Worker negligence does not bar an individual from eligibility for M&C benefits. Even if you made a mistake and caused your own injury, you are still eligible for M&C benefits.
  • An injury does not have to have been incurred while on the clock. A worker injured outside of their shift in a leisure activity, for example, is still eligible for M&C.
  • Workers who get sick while working on a vessel are also eligible for M&C. The sickness does not have to be related to a task or the job itself.

It’s important to note here that M&C does not address negligence. Other aspects of the Jones Act do address negligence and factor it into compensation, but M&C does not.

“Seaman” is a specifically defined term. While the Jones Act itself does not define the term “seaman,” court precedents have established certain qualifiers:

  • Your work must contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission. This is a broad qualifier as nearly everyone on a vessel is there to serve a vessel’s mission in some capacity.
  • You must have a substantial connection to a vessel in navigation or to a fleet of vessels under common ownership or control. This qualifier addresses the requirements of regular employment and significant time spent working on a vessel or fleet of vessels. As a rule, an employed worker must spend at least 30% of their time on a vessel to be a seaman.
  • The vessel or vessels that you spend at least 30% of your time on must be in navigation. Here the key phrase is “in navigation.” Essentially, a vessel must be in navigable waters—an ocean, river, lake or other waterway used for interstate or international commerce. It does not have to be moving—only “capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.”

Collecting maintenance and cure benefits can present challenges. As with any form of compensation, M&C cases can be challenging when a situation is less than clear.

  • An employer may resist paying M&C benefits for a maritime injury or illness. If they do and the worker files a claim with the courts, the employer may find themselves responsible for paying not only M&C benefits but also punitive damages.
  • An employer may require a worker to have an independent medical exam with their own employer-handpicked medical professionals. Doctors acting on the company’s behalf may be biased or release a worker from medical care too soon. However, workers have a right to secure a second opinion from another doctor.
  • The interpretation of terminology like “seaman,” “in navigation” and “significant connection” can present difficulties for some workers to qualify for M&C benefits, even though they technically should. In 2021, for example, the federal appeals court for Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas determined that the definition of seaman needed to be expanded to cover more land-based workers whose assignments were actually more vessel-focused.

Just because a situation doesn’t readily conform to the standards doesn’t mean a maritime injury claim isn’t legitimate. Often, workers hurt offshore need legal assistance to gain clarity and prove that they do indeed qualify as a seaman.

Explore Your Options with MMRBH

No one plans to get hurt, but accidents happen all the same. While most employers take the responsibilities of maintenance and cure benefits seriously, the unfortunate reality is that not all readily honor them. 

If you’ve been injured and are having trouble obtaining the maintenance and cure benefits that you’re due, it’s time to reach out to the maritime lawyers at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett and Haik. Set up your free consultation by calling (800)725-8836, or contact us online. We’re experienced in offshore and maritime injury, and have the track record to get you the compensation you deserve.


TX, MI, LA court decision cited in jonesact.com

  • Categories


      We’re here to help. Simply fill out the form, and we’ll be in touch.
    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.