Southern District of Texas Opinion on Recoverable Maintenance and Cure for Boat Captain

In an Order issued last month by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in the case, Moran v. Signet Maritime Corp., the court evaluated the amount of maintenance and cure that the plaintiff is entitled to receive following a jury’s finding of liability on the part of his employer.

Moran v. Signet Maritime Corp. – Background

In September 2021, Charles Moran, a 30-year boat captain, reported to work and was informed his vessel’s departure was delayed. After leaving to get a haircut, he tripped and fell in the salon parking lot, breaking his ankle. Moran filed a petition three months later, seeking recovery of unearned wages and maintenance and cure from his employer, Signet Maritime Corporation (“Signet”). Signet disputed both the extent of Moran’s injuries, as well as his claim that he was acting in the service of the vessel.

The Ruling

The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated: liability was tried before a jury and damages were tried before U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal. The jury found Signet liable for maintenance and cure, determining that Moran was acting in the service of the vessel at the time of his injury. The court then held a one-day bench trial to determine damages.

First, Signet was ordered pay Moran $16,300.00 in unpaid wages for the 28-day hitch he was scheduled to begin on the day of the injury. The court then evaluated his maintenance claim, which included expenses related to food, lodging, vehicle, cell phone, and internet. Moran testified that he spent $150.00 per week on groceries for himself and his brother. He also referred to the USDA Food Chart, which provided $376.70 per month as a reasonable monthly food expense. The court ultimately determined that $75 per week was a reasonable food expense, finding that the money Moran spent on his brother’s food should be excluded from the maintenance calculation.

Next, the court evaluated Moran’s lodging expense claim. Moran lived on a boat until August 2020 when the boat was damaged by Hurricane Laura, at which time he moved in with his brother. The parties did not dispute that Moran’s lodging expenses when he lived on the boat totaled approximately $1,600.00 per month. However, Signet argued that Moran’s lodging expense claim should be reduced by 50% because he was cohabitating with his brother at the time of his accident. The court rejected this argument, holding that no authority was submitted “suggest[ing] that a move or partial move necessitated by a natural disaster should result in diminished maintenance expenses.”

In Spring 2022, Moran purchased a camper trailer, and his boat was repossessed in mid-May 2022. The court held that Signet was not obligated to pay living expenses related to the purchase of the trailer, because Moran was already living part-time at his brother’s house and had not yet lost his boat. Moran was unable to persuade the court that maintenance should cover his vehicle, cell phone, and internet expenses. On the issue of punitive damages, Judge Rosenthal held that Signet’s failure to pay maintenance and cure was not arbitrary or capricious, and thus, Signet was not liable for punitive damages.

Moran v. Signet Maritime Corp., 2023 WL 2971768; 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66461 * (Civil Case No. H-21-4214, S.D. Tex. April 17, 2023, Rosenthal, J.)