On-the-job injuries are all too common, particularly in inherently dangerous occupations such as commercial fishing. The plaintiff in the recent case of Ramirez v. Carolina Dream, Inc., was a crew member on a commercial fishing vessel. He had been employed as such for about eight years when, in late 2008, rough seas caused him to strike his jaw against his bunk and cut the inside of his mouth. According to the plaintiff, he suffered dizziness the following day and became weak and nauseous a few days later. The ship’s captain refused the plaintiff’s request to be brought ashore.
The plaintiff’s condition continued to worsen during the remainder of the trip. When the vessel finally returned to its home port, the plaintiff’s wife drove him directly to the emergency room. He stayed in the hospital for a month. After being home for a week, he was again hospitalized due to continuing symptoms.
His diagnosis was aplastic anemia, a rare condition that happens when the body stops producing sufficient blood cells. The exact cause of the plaintiff’s disease could not be determined, but one of his treating physicians opined that the plaintiff’s history of hepatitis C could be the culprit. Prior to the trip on which he became ill, the plaintiff had no symptoms and performed his duties well.
The Seaman’s Cause of Action
The plaintiff filed suit against the owner of the vessel on which he was a crewmember at the time of his illness, alleging negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and maritime claims of unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure. According to the plaintiff, his injury and the delay in receiving the proper medical treatment caused an infection that led to his aplastic anemia. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts found in the defendant’s favor.
The Issue on Appeal
Although the plaintiff sought relief in the trial court on a multitude of theories, he opted to appeal only the portion of the district court’s order that granted summary judgment to the defendant on the plaintiff’s cause of action for maintenance and cure. (“Maintenance” refers to the cost of food and lodging while a seaman is ill or recovering from an injury. “Cure” includes the reasonable medical expenses incurred for a seaman’s treatment.)
What the Court Decided on Appeal
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the trial court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings, agreeing with the plaintiff that the record would permit a factfinder to find that the plaintiff was entitled to maintenance and cure under the circumstances of the case.
The Court’s Rationale
In reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the appellate court noted that the owner of a vessel has a duty to pay maintenance and cure to a seaman who is injured or falls ill while in service of the ship. The remedy of maintenance and cure is deliberately expansive. It is not restricted to situations in which a seaman’s employment is the cause of the injury or illness. Even a seaman’s negligence will not relieve the ship owner of responsibility, as long as the seaman did not engage in culpable misconduct.
What to Do If You’ve Been Hurt on the Job
If you’ve been injured in the workplace, you need an attorney who understands the laws that govern workers’ compensation and other work-related injury cases. The attorneys of the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III have many years of collective experience handling these types of claims. We welcome the opportunity to speak with you about the details of your case. To schedule a free consultation, call our office at 888-262-6664. You can also fill out the contact form on our website.
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