When Should an Injured Crew Member Hire a Marine Lawyer?

Information for Crew Members

Most crew members get injured because of the abusive labor policies of the cruise lines.The main reasons many injured crew members delay hiring a lawyer to help them obtain money compensation for their injuries are: Guilt, Hope, and Fear.

Guilt:
Many crew members blame themselves for their injuries.  This is totally wrong. Most crew members get injured because of the abusive labor policies of the cruise lines.  They are made to work too many hours.  Repeatedly, they have to lift, pull, push, and carry heavy items. Fatigue causes accidents and injuries.  They are not given adequate training and the proper tools they need to do their jobs.  As the ships get bigger there are fewer crew members relative to passengers and they do not get the help they need.  Crew members should not feel guilty because they are injured.  It is not the crew members’ fault. The companies are responsible for their accidents and injuries.  Therefore, an injured crew member should never delay hiring a maritime injury lawyer because he thinks his injuries are his fault.

Hope:
Most crew members are hardworking people that sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their families.  They leave their homes and families behind and work 7 days a week for periods of 6 months or longer.  When they get injured, they want to return to work as soon as possible to continue providing a good life for their families.  Sadly, the reality is quite different.  The cruise lines rarely re-hire an injured crew member.  They do not care that the crew member may have given them many years of hard work.  They treat the crew member as a broken piece of machinery that needs to be replaced.  Therefore, an injured crew member should never delay hiring a marine lawyer because he thinks the company is going to hire him back.  It rarely happens. 

Fear:
Many injured crew members fear that if they hire a lawyer the cruise ship company will retaliate and cut off their maintenance money and their medical treatment.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It is just the opposite.  When a crew member is represented by a marine lawyer the cruise ship companies are far more careful with his maintenance money and his medical treatment. For example, when a crew member is not represented by an attorney, the company is far more likely to try to pressure the crew member’s doctors to declare him to be at maximum medical improvement.   This cuts off his medical treatment and his maintenance money.  This rarely happens when a marine lawyer is involved.  When there is no maritime injury lawyer involved, the companies will try to give the crew members quick and inferior medical care by sending them to receive medical care, not back to their countries, but to third countries where the medical care is cheap, inferior, and the doctors can be controlled by the company.  Therefore, an injured crew member should never delay hiring a lawyer because he fears that the company will cut off his medical treatment and his maintenance money.

When should an injured crew member hire a lawyer? Yesterday.

Crewmembers are Entitled to Free Medical Care Under Maritime Law

Information for Crew Members

Free Medical Care Under Maritime LawUnder American Maritime law, all vessel owners and operators have the legal obligation to provide free medical care for any crew member that is injured or becomes sick while he is working or is in the service of the ship. By the time of the case of Harder vs. Gordon in 1823 this was already well established law.

What does this mean for the crew member working on a cruise ship?

It means that if a crew member suffers an accident on a cruise ship and becomes injured or sick, the company he works for cannot evade the responsibility to provide him free medical care by the simple expedient of sending him home. The company cannot legally abandon an injured or sick crew member. The obligation to provide free medical care to an injured or sick crew member is so strong that it does not matter if the crew member was negligent or had any fault in causing his maritime accident or sickness. The only legal requirement to receive free medical care is that the crew member be working at the time of his medical problem or that he be in the service of the ship. For example, if a crew member is injured or becomes sick while on shore leave, he is still entitled to free medical care. If a crew member is traveling from his home to the ship or from the ship to his home, he is entitled to free medical care. American courts have been so generous in interpreting the crew member’s right to receive free medical care that in the famous case of Koistinen v. American Export Lines, a crew member was allowed to recover the medical expenses he incurred when he was injured by jumping out of the window of a house of prostitution.

What types of injuries or sickness entitle the crew member to receive free medical care?

The injury or sickness does not need to be related to the crew member’s work. It does not need to be caused by a maritime injury, or other cruise ship incidents. For example, a crew member is entitled to free medical care for a gall bladder attack, heart attack, diabetes, kidney stones, mental conditions, or any other medical treatment. Even when a pre-existing medical condition recurs, the crew member is still entitled to free medical care.
The crew member’s right to receive free medical care from the company is expected to work automatically without uncertainty or administrative delay or haggling.
American courts have imposed a duty on the employer under maritime law to pay for the crew member’s medical care irrespective of cause or fault and to resolve any doubts in favor of paying the crew member’s medical expenses.

Where am I entitled to receive my medical treatment?

The crew member is entitled to receive his emergency and non-emergency medical care aboard the ship, and at the nearest port depending upon of the severity of his injury or sickness. If the cargo or cruise ship injury or sickness renders the crew member unable to work, then, after the initial medical care is given, a doctor will determine if he is able to travel. If the crew member is able to travel, he will probably be sent home to receive his medical care. If the crew member is not able to travel, he will receive free medical care wherever he is at.

Can the company send me to a third country to receive my medical care?

In the last few years, many of the cruise companies have negotiated with doctors and hospitals in poor countries to obtain cheap and low quality medical care for their crew members. Instead of giving the medical care at the closest port or in the crew member’s home country, they try to send the crew member to a third country for his medical care. This is not an accepted practice and the crew member can and should refuse to go to a third country for medical care.

When does the company obligation to provide medical care end?

The company’s obligation to provide free medical care ends when the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement.

What does maximum medical improvement mean?

Maximum medical improvement means that, in the doctor’s opinion, any additional
medical treatment will not improve the crew member’s medical condition.

Who determines when the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement?

This is determined by the crew member’s doctor. When the crew member’s doctor writes a medical report saying that the crew member will not benefit from any additional medical care, the company’s obligation to provide it ends.

Can I challenge the doctor’s opinion that I have reached maximum medical improvement?

If the crew member disagrees with the doctor’s opinion that he has reached maximum medical improvement, he can challenge the doctor’s opinion. If the doctor who determined that the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement was selected by the company instead of the crew member, the crew member can get a different opinion from an equally qualified doctor and challenge the company doctor’s opinion. If the crew member selected his own doctor, challenging his opinion is far more difficult but it still can be accomplished in some cases.

What can I accomplish by challenging the company doctor’s opinion as to maximum medical improvement?

A successful challenge to the company doctor’s opinion will result in the company reopening the crew member’s medical file and giving him any additional treatment
that he may need such as additional medication, additional medical testing, additional therapy, additional surgery, etc.

Free confidential consultation by E-mail, phone, or in person.

ELIAS B. RUDNIKAS
Attorney at Law – Specialized in Maritime Law
2nd Floor Stella Maris Building
3670 N.W. 6th Street, Miami, Florida 33125
United States of America
Telephone: (305) 642-5000; Fax: (305) 541-4690.

Maritime Law: Rights of Crew and Seamen to Receive Maintenance Money

Information for Crew Members

What is maintenance?

All crew members and seamen have the right to receive a daily amount of money when they are unable to work because of an accident, an injury, or a sickness that occurred while working or in the service of the ship. Service of the ship includes maritime injury and sickness that occur while traveling to and from the ship, while on shore leave, and while working on land or on an island off the ship.

What does this mean for a crew member or seaman working on any ship?

It means that if a crew member is injured or becomes sick while working or in the service of the ship, the company has to pay him a daily amount of money until he reaches maximum medical improvement.

What type of injuries or sickness entitles the crew member or seaman to maintenance?

The injury or sickness does not have to be related to the crew member’s occupation on the ship. It does not need to be a result of a cruise ship injury or other maritime accident. For example, a crew member is entitled to maintenance while receiving medical treatment for a heart problem, a kidney problem, diabetes, a mental problem or any other medical condition.

Is a crew member or seaman entitled to maintenance while hospitalized or living in a company-paid hotel?

No. The purpose of maintenance is to pay for the crew member’s living expenses. If a crew member is hospitalized or living in a company-paid hotel and he is receiving room and board, this fulfills the company’s obligation to provide maintenance.

What determines how much maintenance money the crew member or seaman receives?

In most cases, the daily amount of money you will receive is determined by the employment contract that the crew member signs or by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

For how long is the crew member or seaman entitled to receive maintenance?

For as long as he is receiving curative medical care. The company’s obligation to pay maintenance only ends when your doctor says that you can return to work on the vessel (fit-for-duty) or he says that you have reached maximum medical improvement.

What does maximum medical improvement mean?

Maximum medical improvement means that, in the doctor’s opinion, any additional medical treatment will not improve the crew member’s medical condition. Of course, with most serious injuries, a crew member may have reached maximum medical improvement but is not fit-for-duty.

Money for Crew Members for Unseaworthiness

Information for Crew Members

To the average person, a ship is unseaworthy when it is unable to navigate due to mechanical or structural problems. This notion is correct. However, as it applies to the crew that works on a ship, unseaworthiness has an additional meaning in the United States. In the famous Osceola case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a ship and her owner are legally responsible for the injuries received by a crew member as a result of the unseaworthiness of the ship. The Supreme Court also defined unseaworthiness as the failure to keep a ship in good working order and free of dangerous and defective conditions.

What does this mean for the crew member working on a cruise ship?

It means that the crew member has the right to receive money compensation from the ship and her owner if he is injured aboard the ship because of dangerous or defective conditions aboard the ship. The most common instances of unseaworthiness aboard cruise ships are:

  1. An insufficient crew. Cruise ships are frequently understaffed. When this happens, a crew member may have to do the job of two and work very long hours. If this crew member is injured, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
  2. Failure to promulgate and enforce sensible policies for the lifting, carrying and pushing of heavy weights. If a crew member is injured because he was made to lift, carry, or push heavy weights, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
  3. Failure to keep the ship clean and safe. Very often, the floors and stairs of the ship are dirty and slippery. If a crew member is injured because the floor or the stairs are slippery, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
  4. Failure to have a properly trained and rested crew. Very often, crew members are injured because they do not receive adequate training to do their jobs or because they are not properly rested. If a crew member is injured because he is tired or not properly trained, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
  5. Failure to have the necessary equipment. Very often, the cruise lines fail to repair or replace defective or broken down equipment. If a crew member is injured because he did not have the proper equipment or the equipment he was using was defective, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.

Our advice to any crew member that is injured aboard a cruise ship is to consult with a maritime lawyer right away because his injuries were most likely caused by the unseaworthiness of the ship.

The Meaning of “Maximum Medical Improvement”

Information for Crew Members

medical treatment for injured seamenUnder American Law, all cruise companies and shipping companies have the obligation to provide free medical care to any crew member that has an accident, is injured, or gets sick on the ship, or working for the ship.  This obligation only ends when the crew member reaches Maximum Medical Improvement.  The purpose of this article is to explain the legal-medical meaning of Maximum Medical Improvement.

Many crew members think that Maximum Medical Improvement means the complete return of the same health they enjoyed before their accident, injury, or sickness.  This would be ideal, but it is not the legal-medical meaning of Maximum Medical Improvement.

The true legal-medical meaning of Maximum Medical Improvement is when the health of the crew member will not improve anymore even if the medical treatment continues.  The doctors in charge of the crew member’s treatment will determine if the crew member has reached Maximum Medical Improvement.  This is very important for the crew member.  Once the crew member reaches Maximum Medical Improvement, he loses his right to receive free medical care and he loses his right to receive monthly maintenance money.

For this reason, we advise all crew members to take advantage of all the medical care that the companies offer them and not to refuse it.
We also advise all crew members to maintain the most cordial relationship possible with their doctors.  The medical report that the doctor writes after the crew member reaches Maximum Medical Improvement can help him in his claim against the company.