Come One, Come All: The Second Circuit’s Messier Approach to Maintenance and Cure

Yaakov Adler | Note

Richard Messier, a tugboat seaman, fell off a ladder and sustained a back injury while working aboard the tug EVENING MIST, a Bouchard Transportation Co. (Bouchard) vessel. After seeking medical attention, his back pain quickly abated. However, during the ensuing medical examination, routine blood tests revealed an abnormally high level of creatinine in his blood. Messier’s creatinine levels continued to rise for a week, ultimately resulting in renal failure. After his symptoms subsided, Messier’s doctors ordered additional tests to determine the cause of his kidney failure. Two months after discontinuing his service to the EVENING MIST, Messier was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, for which he underwent treatment. He did not return to work for Bouchard and did not resume work as a seaman for nearly a year.

Two years later, Messier filed a claim against Bouchard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking, inter alia, maintenance and cure under general maritime law. The parties cross-motioned for summary judgment on the maintenance and cure claim. The district court granted Bouchard’s motion for summary judgment, holding that even though Messier’s lymphoma existed while he was in Bouchard’s employ, Messier was not entitled to maintenance and cure as a matter of law because he did not present symptoms while in service to the vessel. In reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure if his injury or illness occurs during his service to a vessel, regardless of when symptoms manifest. Messier v. Bouchard Transportation, 688 F.3d 78, 88-89, 2012 AMC 2370, 2385 (2d Cir. 2012).