5th Circuit Court of Appeals Declines to Alter Well-Established Principles of Maintenance and Cure

An opinion issued on March 14th, 2013 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to apply state law principles of fraud and unjust enrichment to a maritime law claim. An injured seaman hurt his back while on his company's vessel, but had failed to disclose that he suffered from prior back pain and injury. He received five years worth of maintenance and cure and sought to extend the award. During discovery, the company learned of his prior medical history, including the back injury, and moved for partial summary judgment. This included restitution for the amount of maintenance and cure previously paid to the seaman.

In Washington and other states, maintenance and cure have functioned as compensation under maritime and admiralty law for those injured while working aboard a vessel. Maintenance is a daily allowance given to those injured during their period of recovery until they reach maximum medical improvement or fit to return to duty as before. Cure is payment for reasonable and necessary medical expenses including doctor's visits, medical equipment, testing, and transportation for medical appointments.

No fault or negligence needs to be proven, just that illness or injury occurred while working. Punitive damages may be awarded if the employer willfully and wantonly withheld maintenance and cure. Generally, there is not a lot to bar a claim for maintenance and cure, even pre-existing medical conditions. There must be a material misrepresentation in a medical questionnaire that would have prevented the employer from hiring the seaman, otherwise benefits are paid.

In Boudreaux v. Transocean, the Court of Appeals looked to a previous Supreme Court case, Still v. Norfolk & Western Railway Co., to affirm the principles of maintenance and cure. It is such a deep-rooted obligation between a seaman and his employer, that even fraud, alone, is not enough to terminate the employer-employee relationship and the right to maintenance and cure. This precedent stands alongside a fellow 5th Circuit ruling in McCorpen v. Central Gulf S.S. Corp., where the court found that an employer does not have to pay maintenance and cure if it can establish that a seaman intentionally misrepresented or concealed a pre-existing medical condition that is material to employment and casually connected to the injury sustained.

In Boudreaux, the company was seeking an instant restitution on previously paid maintenance and cure amounts, based on the discovery of the seaman's concealed medical history. The appellate court found it necessary to preserve the paternalistic precedent of maintenance and cure awards, and ultimately refused to extend maritime law to include an instant award of restitution of paid maintenance and cure when misrepresentation is discovered.

With over half a century of maritime law experience, the attorneys at Gordon and Webb know how to find the maximum compensation for injuries at sea under state or maritime law. If you are a seaman or longshoreman who has been injured or become ill while on the job, call the Washington maintenance and cure attorneys, John Merriam and Gordon Webb for a free, confidential consultation about your case today.

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