Injured Fishermen and Seamen May Receive Maintenance Benefits While on Light Duty
Injured seamen are entitled to maintenance and cure benefits while they are recovering from their injuries. Maintenance should continue until the seaman has reached a point of maximum medical improvement or to the point where he or she is able to return to their normal job assignment. Maintenance payments are not wage replacement payments; maintenance only provides an allowance for the reasonable housing, food, and utilities of the injured seaman. Maintenance does not provide for many of the expenses seaman may face such as car payments and support of one’s spouse and children.
In many cases prior to reaching maximum medical improvement, the seaman is cleared for light duty by their treating doctor. If a seaman seeks a light duty shore side job during recovery from their shipboard injuries, they are still entitled to ongoing maintenance benefits. The wages earned in this light duty job do not offset or replace maintenance benefits. Maritime legal cases support the proposition that an injured fisherman should receive light duty wages in addition to their maintenance payment.
The right to ongoing maintenance while on shoreside light duty is slightly different when the seaman returns to light duty aboard the same ship or fishing vessel on which they were injured. If the employer is providing meals and lodging as part of the light duty job aboard ship, then they would be fulfilling their obligation to pay maintenance as they are paying for the injured worker’s room and food. However, as in most fisherman contracts, if the cost of meals or housing is being deducted from the fisherman’s pay, then the fisherman on light duty will still be entitled to at least a portion, if not all, of their maintenance benefits, in addition to light duty wages.
Most recently, this approach to light duty maintenance payments has been held to be correct by the United States District Court of Louisiana in Owens v. Abdon Callais Offshore. In Owens, an injured worker received $200 day from his employer while on light duty. The Court held that the light duty wages could not be credited against the employer’s duty to pay maintenance, finding that maintenance is not wage replacement.