As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact our health and safety, it is important to realize the massive costs and risks it has placed on some of our most valuable workers: seamen. Already working in some of the most valuable yet underappreciated spheres of the economy, seamen constantly deal with risks of danger and disease to keep our nation running. During the continuing pandemic, it is important to be aware of protections that are available to seamen should they fall ill with COVID, or any other disease or injury. If you or a loved one is a seaman, please be aware of the following protections designed to keep vessel workers taken care of in case of illness or injury.

Maintenance & Cure

Should a seaman fall injured or ill and prove unable to work, that seaman’s employer is obligated to pay full maintenance and cure benefits to its employee until full recovery. Maintenance is the value of the seaman’s room, board, and food, while cure is the value of the seaman’s medical care and related expenses. On top of maintenance and cure, the employer must continue to pay the wages of the seaman until the end of the voyage as if he were currently working. When a seaman is injured or ill, then, his employer must pay these living and work expenses until the seaman is fit to return to work.

One important thing to know about receiving maintenance, cure, and unearned wages is that the injury or illness need not be caused by the employer or even during the hours of employment. (Aguilar v Standard Oil Co., 318 U.S. 724, 1943 AMC 451 (1943); Calmar S.S. Corp. v. Taylor, 303 U.S. 525, 1938 AMC 341, 343 (1938); Jauch v. Nautical Services, Inc., 470 F.3d 207, 2007 AMC 93 (5th Cir. 2006)) Even if the injury occurred off the worksite when a seaman is not working, he is still entitled to full maintenance, cure, and unearned wages from his employer. Similarly, a seaman does not have to seek medical treatment for symptoms before being eligible for such payments. So long as the injury or illness was not disabling or deliberately hidden by the seaman when he was hired, the employer must pay in full. Even better, when any of these issues are in doubt, the Supreme Court has ruled that courts must err on the side of the seaman! (Vella v. Ford Motor Co., 421 U.S. 1, 1975 AMC 563 (1975); Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 1962 AMC 1131 (1962))

Negligence and Unseaworthiness

If a seaman is injured or falls ill during his employment, he may have a claim for negligence against his employer and/or unseaworthiness against the vessel owner or operator.. Part of the job of the employer is to ensure that work environments are safe, well maintained, and offers protections for employees. If an injury or illness comes about because of an employee’s work environment, the employer has most likely either been negligent in its protection duties or the vessel owner or operator is maintaining an unseaworthy, and thus “unfit for work”, vessel. If injured or ill due to the work environment or unseaworthy vessel, the seaman is likely able to receive even greater compensation for their hardships.

Especially now, employers have a duty to ensure that their work environments are safe for operation without spreading coronavirus.

Preventative Measures

To maximize safety during employment, a safety-minded employer and vessel owner must make sure to adhere to the following COVID-related measures:

  1. Always wear a face mask or covering
  2. Watch out for illness symptoms from yourself and coworkers
  3. Maintain social distancing whenever possible
  4. Wash and sanitize hands regularly
  5. Ask your employer for their outbreak management and response information

Employers have a duty to ensure that their work environments are clean, safe, and suitable for work. If you or someone you know is working in a maritime environment without relevant personal protection equipment, safety guidelines, education on basic safety measures, and other important tools to minimize and prevent the spread of disease, reach out to someone in your company or an experienced seaman’s attorney right away to maximize the health and safety of yourself and coworkers.

If you would like more information about the above article, or other matters related to injuries to seamen, please contact us at the Herd Law Firm, PLLC.


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