When someone is injured while on the job, it can be both physically and emotionally difficult to recuperate. When an employer terminates a worker because they can no longer work at the level they used to, it may be cause for a lawsuit. A Florida appeals court was recently tasked with deciding whether an employee who was terminated after being injured on the job was entitled to, amongst other financial compensation, punitive damages—meaning the employer acted callously and disregarded her rights by not reinstating her.
Under maritime law, when someone works on a ship, the shipowner has the responsibility to provide food, lodging, and medical services—called “maintenance and cure” if a crew member is injured while working aboard the ship. However, the obligation to provide maintenance and cure concludes when the worker reaches maximum medical improvement.
In this case, the plaintiff worked as a server aboard a cruise ship. Approximately three months into her employment, she was hit by a car when on shore leave. The plaintiff then debarked the ship and returned home, and her cruise ship employer—the defendant in this case—paid her medical bills. She later was deemed at maximum medical improvement, returned to work, and then complained about chest pain within weeks; then, her employer told her to speak with a physician and they would reimburse her medical bills. When the plaintiff’s doctor stated the plaintiff was not fit to work as a server but declared her at the maximum medical improvement level, the defendant terminated her benefits. Over the next three years, the plaintiff sent the defendant her medical bills and statements from her doctor; the defendant refused to reinstate her benefits.