The Changing Contours of Maintenance and Cure

John J. Walsh | Article

Litigation concerning the seafarer’s right to maintenance and cure was initially robust in the early to middle part of the twentieth century, but declined considerably for some time as more lucrative remedies under the Jones Act and for breach of the warranty of seaworthiness developed. Between 1975 and 2010, a span of thirty-five years, the United States Supreme Court did not grant a petition for writ of certiorari in a maintenance and cure case. In that same span, circuit court opinions deciding maintenance and cure cases were not as numerous as earlier in the century. Due to several developments, however, a sea change has occurred that suggests maintenance and cure issues may once again occupy a prominent position in controversies between seafarers and shipowners. Closure of United States Public Health Service (PHS) hospitals has spawned litigation over medical expenses. Maintenance rates have become variable. The burdens of proof as to entitlement and defenses have been altered. The availability of punitive damages in maintenance and cure cases looms over all of these issues, creating uncertainty for litigants. This Article will explore these changes to maintenance and cure law and provide suggestions for dealing with new issues arising from the changes.