Maintenance and Cure on Florida Cruise Ships

General maritime law provides that a seaman can recover compensation for food, lodging and medical services that arise when injured or taken ill while working on a ship. These forms of compensation must continue through recuperation until the seaman achieves maximum medical recovery. “Maintenance and cure” under general maritime law is separate from remedies under the Jones Act.

If you are a seaman who is hurt while employed on a cruise ship because of an employer or coworker’s negligence, the Jones Act allows you to seek damages (such as lost wages or pain and suffering), separate from maintenance and cure. Because of its proximity to the water, Florida sees many cases related to seaman injuries and illnesses. These cases may raise issues under both general maritime law and the Jones Act.

In a 2012 case a professional musician appealed after the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of a Disney Cruise Lines in his complaint for unseaworthiness, negligence, Jones Act, maintenance and cure. The musician had suffered an injury while on board a Disney cruise ship. He received medical care from a specialist in the Caribbean and then went on medical disembark. An orthopedic surgeon treated him and performed two surgeries on his shoulder, rotator cuff and elbow.

After the procedures, the doctor issued two reports with his opinion and recommendations about his wellness. In the first report, the doctor’s opinion was that the shoulder and elbow had recovered entirely and he had achieved maximum medical improvement. The doctor believed he could return to playing music as his job. In the second report, however, the doctor advised the musician not to return to his music job, even though the surgeries were successful. The doctor also said the man was not fully improved but had reached the highest “possible” level of improvement.

Several months later, the claimant began playing music, but experienced pain. He got more treatment and finally filed an action against Disney Cruise Lines on the grounds that it hadn’t provided him with maintenance and care for his injuries and had been negligent in failing to provide him prompt, adequate medical care. He claimed he had not reached maximum medical improvement.

Another orthopedic surgeon examined him and attested to the claimant’s failure to reach maximum medical improvement as of January 2008. The doctor was deposed by Disney Cruise Lines and asked whether he had any reason to doubt what the original orthopedic surgeon had reported. The doctor said yes.

Disney filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that it had provided maintenance and cure and medical care until the claimant achieved maximum medical improvement in January 2008 as the original orthopedic surgeon had claimed in the first report. The trial court granted the motion.

The musician appealed. He argued that the second orthopedic surgeon’s affidavit stating he had not reached maximum medical improvement in January 2008 created a dispute as to a material fact. Disney argued the doctor had changed his mind at the deposition. The appellate court explained that Disney never asked the doctor if he had changed his mind, but instead asked ambiguous questions about his interpretation of original doctor’s maximum medical improvement date.

The appellate court explained that a shipowner is required to provide prompt and adequate care under the Jones Act after a crewman is injured. But there’s no duty to provide this care to the limits of maximum medical improvement. There also was no evidence of negligence in medical care. Therefore the trial court’s entry of judgment was affirmed as to these claims. However the entry of summary judgment as to maintenance and cure was reversed.

If you have suffered an injury while on a cruise ship, contact the experienced Florida maritime attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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