The Crew Member’s Right to Receive Free Medical Treatment
Free confidential consultation by E-mail, phone, or in person.
ELIAS B. RUDNIKAS
Attorney at Law – Abogado
2nd Floor Stella Maris Building
3670 N.W. 6th Street, Miami, Florida 33125
United States of America
Telephone: (305) 642-5000; Fax: (305) 541-4690
THE CREW MEMBER’S RIGHT TO RECEIVE FREE MEDICAL TREATMENT
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
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
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.