Willfully Rejecting Recommended Medical Aid Could Result in Forfeiture of Maintenance and Cure Benefits
A Jones Act seaman who is injured while in service of a vessel is generally entitled to maintenance and cure benefits until he reaches maximum medical improvement. However, he potentially forfeits his right to maintenance and cure if he willfully rejects recommended medical aid.
Howard v. Offshore Liftboats, LLC
The Eastern District of Louisiana recently tackled this issue in Howard v. Offshore Liftboats, LLC, 2016 WL 232289 (E.D. La. Jan. 18, 2016). In that case, the injured seaman, Howard, received medical rehabilitative care at Touchstone Neurorecovery Center (“Touchstone”). However, he eventually terminated his treatment at Touchstone, claiming that he could not afford it. His employer thereafter agreed to pay for the treatment, but Howard never returned to Touchstone. The employer argued to the court that Howard “abandoned” his treatment, but Howard argued that he simply suspended his treatment while awaiting back surgery.
The Howard court wrote, “A seaman may forfeit his right to maintenance and cure if he quits participation in course of therapy already begun.” It added, “However, this rule is not inexorably applied and exceptions exist when reasonable grounds for refusing or failing to follow instructions are shown.” District courts are instructed to evaluate “any extenuating circumstances which made the seaman’s failure to follow the prescribed regimen either reasonable or something less than a willful rejection.”
In other words, the Eastern District of Louisiana had to determine whether Howard quit participating in a course of therapy already begun and, if he did, whether any extenuating circumstances could explain his actions. The Howard court ultimately determined that there were disputed facts (e.g. whether surgery had been recommended when Howard quit his treatment) preventing the court from ruling on the issue. These disputed facts were to be determined by the jury.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.