Maintenance and Cure: Seaman Who Refuses Light Duty Assignment Forfeits Right to Maintenance

District Judge Carl Barbier of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of  Louisiana issued a notable opinion last July in the context of a seaman’s right to recover maintenance and cure benefits following a work related injury.  In Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc. v. Parker, 2010 WL 2836130 (E.D.La. 2010), deckhand Parker sustained injuries to his left index and middle fingers when his hand became caught between a soft line and a bitt.  Sometime after the injury, Parker’s treating physician deemed him medically fit for light duty.  The employer, Atlantic, offered Parker the opportunity to continue his employment at his regular rate of pay under light duty conditions.  Parker rejected the offer of light duty. 

Atlantic filed a federal court complaint seeking declaratory judgment that it owed no maintenance to Parker because he failed to mitigate his damages.  Parker responded to Atlantic’s complaint with a counterclaim against Atlantic seeking damages under the Jones Act and general maritime law in addition to maintenance and cure.  The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on the maintenance and cure issue.  Notably, Judge Barbier agreed with the employer’s position:

“Atlantic Sounding made an attempt to ensure that Mr. Parker could afford food and lodging by offering him the same pay and accommodating his medical restrictions [by offering light duty employment]. Consistent with…Fifth Circuit jurisprudence, a seaman who fails to mitigate damages forfeits his maintenance payments.”

The court’s ruling applied only to Parker’s claim for maintenance benefits and not to Parker’s entitlement to cure (medical treatment). Judge Barbier expressly stated: “Nonetheless, forfeited maintenance payments do not automatically preclude eligibility for cure because maintenance and cure benefits are two distinct components.”

Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc. v. Parker, 2010 WL 2836130 (E.D.La. 2010).