A crew member has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line if he is injured on the cruise ship because of dangerous or defective conditions aboard the ship. The most common dangerous conditions aboard cruise ships are:
An inadequate crew. Cruise ships are often undermanned. When this occurs, crew members have to work too many hours and do the job of two or three crew members. If a crew member is injured under these circumstances, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Failure to enforce common sense guidelines for the lifting, carrying and pushing of heavy items. Because of the constant work pressure on the cruise ships, the cruise ship companies do not enforce common sense rules for the lifting, carrying, and pushing of heavy items. If a crew member is injured because he was forced to lift, carry, or push heavy items, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Inadequate Cleaning and Maintenance. Frequently, the stairs and floors of the ships are wet, greasy, dirty and slippery. If a crew member is injured because the floor or the stairs are unsafe, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Inadequate Training and Insufficient Hours of Rest. Frequently, crew members do not receive adequate training for the tasks they have to perform, or they are not given enough time to rest between work days. If a crew member is injured because he is not properly trained or because he is exhausted after working too many hours, he has the right to receive money compensation from the cruise line.
Insufficient or Defective Equipment. Frequently, the cruise lines fail to maintain the equipment and tools necessary to do the job. They also fail to buy new equipment when the current equipment is broken or defective. If a crew member is injured because he did not have the proper tools to do his job or the equipment he was using was broken or 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 immediately because his injuries were probably caused by dangerous or defective conditions aboard the ship.
The deaths of two maritime workers at a ship scrapping yard in Izmir, Turkey in August made headlines around the world, not because it was yet another deadly incident in the notoriously dangerous ship demolition industry but because of the history of the cruise ship the men were scrapping.
Turkish authorities have launched an investigation into the incident in the flooded engine room of the MS Pacific, a leisure liner made famous for its role as the titular "Love Boat" in the hit ABC TV series that aired from 1977 to 1986.
Small by today’s standards at just 554 feet in length, the vessel, originally called the Pacific Princess was sold to a Spanish company in 2002, and renamed the MS Pacific.
The iconic leisure cruise liner was set for a refit in the Italian port of Genoa in 2008 but it was seized by Italian authorities after its Spanish owners abandoned the vessel. The MS Pacific was then sold for scrap in 2012 and towed to Turkey.
It was during its Mediterranean crossing to Izmir, Turkey, that the MS Pacific suffered severe flooding due to high seas. Before the Izmir Ship Recycling Co. could begin dismantling the cruise ship for scrap, diesel-powered pumping equipment was brought in to pump water out of the vessel’s flooded engine room.
The probe into the accident may look at why ten men happened to be in an enclosed engine room while exhaust-spewing pumping equipment was in operation. All ten men were rushed to a hospital suffering from exhaust inhalation. Eight men recovered, while two men, Doğan Balcı (37) and Davut Özdemir (40), died.
The investigation may also query an allegation made by relatives of one of the deceased men that he did not receive proper medical treatment for alleged Freon gas exposure two days prior and that this incident played a role in the man’s death.
A Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, quotes a relative of Balcı: "Doğan came over to our house on the second day of Eid and said he had been exposed to poison at work along with three others. However, they were given a yogurt drink by their employer instead of being taken to a hospital."
Freon gas is a refrigerant used in refrigerators and air conditioning systems. Inhalation can impair the proper functioning of the heart and lungs. If both men were exposed to Freon, this earlier incident could explain why out of the ten men that suffered exhaust inhalation in the flooded engine room, it was these two men that died.
Turkey scraps about 400 vessels a year, and is responsible for 23 percent of worldwide maritime demolition activity. The ship demolition business is infamous for lax health and safety procedures that cost the lives of scores of workers every year and injures many more.
Under 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.
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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.
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.