Nation's Focus on Fair Wages Centers on Washington
For the last two weeks, the national conversation on minimum wages has taken over news stories in every part of the country. Recent attention has centered on SeaTac, Washington, the small community which recently voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. A recount has been requested for the ballot initiative that passed by a narrow margin, but if the vote stands the local municipality will have the highest minimum wage in the nation. The small town's efforts have inspired other municipalities and worker unions across the nation.
Maritime case law decisions have dealt with the question of whether crew members have received fair compensation. It is a long-held precedent that an injured or sick worker shall receive maintenance and cure if they are injured while serving the ship. Maintenance is the compensation paid to the injured or sick remember for the unearned wages that would have been paid by the end of the voyage. The definition of what is considered "unearned wages" and the designated amount to be paid are usually found in the employment contract. Cure is the money paid by the employer for the medical expenses related to the illness or injury, including prescriptions, doctor's fees, tests, and transportation to and from the hospital or medical office.
They payment of maintenance and cure is the responsibility of the vessel owner, and intentional failure to do so can result in punitive damages. In 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States firmly established in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), that punitive damages are an available remedy for an injured crew member whose employer willfully failed to pay maintenance and cure. The original suit began after a crew member fell off the steel deck of a tugboat and injured his arm and shoulder. The owner of the tugboat told him that he was not going to give him maintenance and cure. The injured worker filed suit alleging negligence and unseaworthiness of the vessel on behalf of the owner, and sought punitive damages for the owner's willful refusal to pay the compensation to which he was entitled. While the district and circuit court agreed that the injured crew member was entitled to pursue punitive damages, the owner continued to appeal. The Supreme Court chose to hear the case because the decision of the Eleventh circuit conflicted with those of other Court of Appeals, including the 9th Circuit.
The Washington Maritime Wage Claim attorneys, John Merriam and Gordon Webb, aggressively represent crew members who have not been paid the compensation they have earned. As maritime and admiralty lawyers with over 50 years of experience negotiating and litigating wage claims, they understand the financial burdens crew members and dock workers face if compensation is withheld. If you have been injured and have questions regarding your employment contract and whether you are owed damages, contact our office for a free, confidential consultation today at 877.800.1007.