1. What worker injury laws apply to the cruise line crew?
The General Maritime Law of the United States, and a Federal Statute known as the Jones Act, apply to cases involving crew members aboard cruise lines. Crew members who aid in the navigation and propulsion of the ship and even crew members such as hospitality staff, cooks, casino workers, and the like, qualify as crew under Jones Act. The hospitality staff crew members qualify because they contribute to the function of the vessel tending to passengers.
2. What rights does a crew member have under the general maritime law?
An injured crew member is entitled under the General Maritime Law to certain remedies, including maintenance (a daily amount for subsistence during recuperation), cure (medical care), unearned wages to the end of the voyage or employment contract, and repatriation (return to the crew member’s home port in the event that he is injured overseas). The general maritime law also provides a tort remedy based on unseaworthiness, a type of strict liability.
3. What do the terms maintenance and cure mean?
A crew member is entitled to maintenance and cure when injured or taken ill while in the service of a vessel. This right is broader than under most workers compensation laws in that the injury or illness need not necessarily be work related. It is sufficient if the illness manifests itself during the time that the crew member was in the service of the vessel. For example, a crew member who has appendicitis is entitled to have his medical bills paid until he reaches Maximum Medical Improvement following surgery even though the appendicitis was in no way caused by his work nor was it a condition that is traditionally considered “work related” as in most workers compensation laws.
Maintenance is designed to provide the ill or injured crew member with compensation sufficient to pay for food and lodging expenses. The amount of maintenance to which the crew member is entitled is a factual question, but is often said to be in replacement of the cost to the employer for the food and lodging of the crew member while he was aboard a vessel.
Maintenance ranges between $15 and $25 per day in most cases. The amount of maintenance for union crew members is usually fixed in the union contract, but for non-union crew members the amount of maintenance is at the discretion of the Court, but it is a rare Court that awards more than $25 per day for maintenance.
The obligation of the employer to pay maintenance and cure terminates when the crew member reaches Maximum Medical Improvement. If a condition is incurable, the obligation to pay maintenance and cure ends when it is determined that the sickness or incapacity is permanent.
Cure means that the employer is obligated to pay the injured crew member’s reasonable medical expenses up until the time of Maximum Medical Improvement. A crew member has the right to select his own physicians and method of treatment, which contrasts with the normal right of the employer to select the physicians under workers compensation schemes.
The obligation of cure is not merely to reimburse an injured crew member for medical expenses. The employer must also make arrangements for the crew member to obtain medical care if the crew member is not in a position to do so.
4. What are “unearned wages”?
An injured crew member is entitled to unearned wages from the time of incapacity to the end of the voyage or the termination of the shipping articles. Shipping articles are generally signed for overseas trips and an injured crew member who does not complete the term of the articles is entitled to be paid through the end of the articles. In coastwise shipping, it is customary to sign on crew members for a specified period of time and recovery of wages until the end of that term generally is granted.
For some crew members, tip income may be a significant component of the crew member’s wages. In those cases, the average tip income must be included in calculating unearned wages.
Unearned wage claims are rare because a crew member typically has claims for negligence under the Jones Act and for unseaworthiness under the General Maritime Law, both of which permit recovery for lost income.
5. What does unseaworthiness mean?
The doctrine of unseaworthiness is a feature of the General Maritime Law. The warranty of seaworthiness imposed by operation of law on a vessel owner or operator is an absolute and non-delegable duty to seamen to provide a vessel that is reasonably fit for its intended purposes or for its intended voyage. The mere happening of an accident is not evidence of unseaworthiness, but when a breach of the warranty causes injury or death, the vessel and its owner can be found liable.
The duty to provide a vessel that is reasonably safe extends to all parts of the vessel and to almost all facets of its operation. The fact that the unseaworthy condition occurred after the vessel left port is immaterial. It is no excuse that the vessel owner had no notice or opportunity to correct the condition that caused the injury.
6. How can you help me if I live in another state or city from your law offices?
Even though our main office is in Pensacola, Florida, we will travel across the nation to you in an appropriate case. In some cases, we may have to associate with a local attorney in states other than the gulf coast states of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, in order to comply with local state rules.
7. How are your legal fees paid?
We collect a fee only if we recover for you. We charge you a “contingent fee” which is usually one third of the total amount we recover. We advance on your behalf the costs to investigate and prosecute your claim. If we don’t make a recovery for you, you owe us nothing. Our fee and recovery of our funds advanced for costs are contingent upon the recovery of money damages for you either through settlement or by a court judgment.
8. How do I make an appointment with you?
You can e-mail us or telephone us directly. You may also leave a brief message using our contact form. Upon receipt of the form or a telephone message from you we will contact you personally and immediately.
9. What about sensitive personal information?
We hold all communications from you in the strictest of confidence and will not disclose to anyone without your permission any information. Even if you don’t decide to retain us the information you provided us is held in strict confidence and will not be disclosed without your permission.
10. What if I already have a lawyer?
Our offer to answer a question for you also includes our willingness to talk to your attorney or answer the question for him at no charge. But, if you have a lawyer, it would be appropriate that you check with him first and get his approval to communicate with us. You should follow his advice as long as he or she represents you and do nothing to jeopardize your case.