According To Maritime Law, Who Pays For Injuries When Someone Is On Sick Leave?

Typically, when you are injured at work, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation, however, usually does not pay for someone who is out on sick leave. As a system that is based on paying for someone who is injured while they are working and specifically engaged in work-related activities, the benefits from workers’ compensation do not extend to being out sick. Usually, whether or not someone has sick-leave pay will depend on the arrangement made between the boss and the employee.

But when it comes to people who work offshore, the rules are different. Offshore workers are protected not by workers’ compensation insurance, but rather by “Maritime Law.”

Maritime law (also known as admiralty law) is a set of laws that govern the sea and those who work on or around it. Included in maritime law are those who work in the cruise ship industry. When you work in other industries, being sick can have you left behind for months at a time and out of money. However, that is not the case here; cruise ship workers may use maritime law to plead that their illness is covered under the “maintenance and cure” portion of the law.

According to the maintenance and cure provision, a ship owner must provide their employee an allowance daily to maintain their conditions of life. They must also pay for any medical treatment to cure whatever illness the employee has.

The stipulation is that the illness must have originated while the worker was actually out to sea and at work on the ship. The maintenance and cure clause states that the shipowner has the responsibility to pay for the crew member until they are cured, they can return to their regular activities or until a time that medical treatment will not ameliorate the situation any further.

Courts have debated whether those who work on cruise ships should be privy to the maintenance and cure provision when they are out sick and not able to get onboard. They have consistently ruled that the shipowner is liable for paying for as long as the ship crew cannot work. In addition, if the crew member is further injured while they are on sick leave, those injuries also might be the responsibility of the shipowner.

For instance, if a crew member misses out on a cruise ship excursion because they have pneumonia, and then they get into a car accident while on the way to pick up their medication, not only would the shipowner be liable for paying to cure their pneumonia and the bills related to the illness, they would also be responsible for paying for any injuries resulting from the car accident. Due to the Jones Act, the injured employee is entitled to:

  • Medical bills stemming from the injury 
  • Having their daily living expenses paid for until they are fully healed 
  • All the medical care necessary to cure them 
  • Any compensatory damages that they might encounter due to the condition getting worse, like disfigurement, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium 
  • Punitive damages, if applicable

So not only are cruise ship crew members entitled to sick pay when they are out on leave, the shipowner is responsible for all maintenance and cure for as long as the crew member is not a part of the crew. Even if they are on dry land and not working, if something happens to them and they are further injured, the shipowner still has the obligation to pay for their living and medical expenses. They are also responsible for any compensatory or noneconomic damages, and punitive damages, if there are any.

If you are a crew member on a cruise ship and need to take time off work due to illness, hiring an maritime attorney who knows maritime law and what you are entitled to due to the Jones Act might be essential to ensuring that you get all that you need to be covered in case you are hurt. Maintenance and cure is a provision that might have more far-reaching potential than you think.