The Crew Member’s Right to Receive Free Medical Treatment

Maritime Law

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Attorney at Law – Abogado
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United States of America
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Under American Maritime law, all vessel owners and operators have the legal
obligation to provide free medical care for any crew member that is injured or
becomes sick while he is working or is in the service of the ship. By the time
of the case of Harder vs. Gordon in 1823 this was already well established

What does this mean for the crew member working on a cruise ship?
It means that if a crew member is injured or becomes sick, the company he works
for can not evade the responsibility to provide him free medical care by the
simple expedient of sending him home. The company can not legally abandon an
injured or sick crew member. The obligation to provide free medical care to
an injured or sick crew member is so strong that it does not matter if the crew
member was negligent or had any fault in causing his injuries or sickness. The
only legal requirement to receive free medical care is that the crew member be
working at the time of his medical problem or that he be in the service of the
ship. For example, if a crew member is injured or becomes sick while on shore
leave, he is still entitled to free medical care. If a crew member is traveling
from his home to the ship or from the ship to his home, he is entitled to free
medical care. American courts have been so generous in interpreting the crew
member’s right to receive free medical care that in the famous case of Korstinen
vs. American Expert Lines
, a crew member was allowed to recover the medical
expenses he incurred when he was injured by jumping out of the window of house
of prostitution.

What type of injuries or sickness entitle the crew member to receive
free medical care?

The injury or sickness does not need to have any relationship with the crew member’s
occupation aboard the ship. For example, a crew member is entitled to free medical
care for a heart problem, kidney problem, diabetes, mental problem, or any other
medical condition. Even when a pre-existing medical condition recurs, the crew
member is still entitled to free medical care.
The crew member’s right to receive free medical care from the company is expected
to work automatically without uncertainty or administrative delay or haggling.
American courts have imposed a duty on the employer to pay for the crew member’s
medical care irrespective of cause or fault and to resolve any doubts in favor
of paying the crew member’s medical expenses.

Where am I entitled to receive my medical treatment?
The crew member is entitled to receive his emergency and non-emergency medical
care aboard the ship, and at the nearest port depending upon of the severity
of his injury or sickness. If the injury or sickness renders the crew member
unable to work, then, after the initial medical care is given, a doctor will
determine if he is able to travel. If the crew member is able to travel, he
will probably be sent home to receive his medical care. If the crew member is
not able to travel, he will receive free medical care wherever he is at.

Can the company send me to a third country to receive my medical

In the last few years, many of the cruise companies have negotiated with doctors
and hospitals in poor countries to obtain cheap and low quality medical care
for their crew members. Instead of giving the medical care at the closest port
or in the crew member’s home country, they try to send the crew member to a third
country for his medical care. This is not an accepted practice and the crew
member can and should refuse to go to a third country for his medical care.

When does the company obligation to provide medical care end?
The company’s obligation to provide free medical care ends when the crew member
has reached maximum medical improvement.

What does maximum medical improvement mean?
Maximum medical improvement means that, in the doctor’s opinion, any additional
medical treatment will not improve the crew member’s medical condition.

Who determines when the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement?
This is determined by the crew member’s doctor. When the crew member’s doctor
writes a medical report saying that the crew member will not benefit from any
additional medical care, the company’s obligation to provide it ends.

Can I challenge the doctor’s opinion that I have reached maximum
medical improvement?

If the crew member disagrees with the doctor’s opinion that he has reached maximum
medical improvement, he can challenge the doctor’s opinion. If the doctor who
determined that the crew member has reached maximum medical improvement was selected
by the company instead of the crew member, the crew member can get a different
opinion from an equally qualified doctor and challenge the company doctor’s opinion.
If the crew member selected his own doctor, challenging his opinion is far more
difficult but it still can be accomplished in some cases.

What can I accomplish by challenging the company doctor’s opinion
as to maximum medical improvement?

A successful challenge to the company doctor’s opinion, will result in the company
reopening the crew member’s medical file and giving him any additional treatment
that he may need such as additional medication, additional medical testing, additional
therapy, additional surgery, etc.

Things You Should Know If You Get Hurt While Taking A Cruise

Law Information Maritime Law

Since the end of the 70’s, cruises have become a very popular vacation for the American middle class. Regrettably, there are a lot of accidents aboard these ships and many passengers suffer very serious injuries.
The most typical accidents are:

  1. Slip and Falls and Trip and Falls due to dangerous conditions aboard the ships such as defective floors, and slippery substances on the floors. These accidents can occur inside the cabins, in and around the pools, on the decks,
    hallways, access ramps, restaurants, bars, etc.
  2. Accidents during short excursions
  3. Fires and Maritime Collisions
  4. Poisoning and Sickness due to contaminated food and drink
  5. Negligence in providing medical care when it is required.
  6. Negligence in providing adequate accommodations for handicapped people.
  7. Physical or sexual assaults perpetrated by the crew or other passengers.
  8. Unexplained disappearances
  9. Negligent navigation.

Many passengers are not aware that they can receive money compensation for these injuries. Additionally, they do not know the laws that apply and the location where the lawsuits must be filed. Matters are made more difficult by the fact that most claims have to be filed where the main offices of the cruise company is located. The main offices for most of the main cruise lines that operate in the United States are located in Miami. Therefore, most passenger lawsuits against the cruise lines have to be filed in Miami. As a result of this, most passengers start their lawsuits in Miami after returning to their home states or home countries.

The passenger ticket is a contract between the passenger and the cruise line. It contains far more than the itinerary. It imposes severe limitations on a passengers’ ability to file a claim against the company and it must be read very carefully because it will contain all the requirements that must be complied with before a lawsuit can be filed. For example, some companies require written notification of the passenger’s intention to file a lawsuit, and this usually has to be done within six (6) months after the accident.

The passenger ticket also contains that statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the time within which the passenger can file his case against the company. If the passenger does not file the case against the company within the statute of limitations, he will lose all his rights. It is a very short statute of limitations. It is one (1) year from the date of the accident or injury. More passenger cases are lost for failure to comply with the requirements of the ticket and the statute of limitations than for any other reason.

If you were injured during your cruise ship vacation and want to file a lawsuit, please read your passenger ticket carefully and comply with all of its requirements.
If for any reason you have lost your ticket, please request a copy of it immediately from the company and comply with all of its requirements. Better yet, call us and we will help you comply with all the requirements and bring your lawsuit to a successful conclusion.