Can you recover mental health expenses under maritime law?

On Behalf of | Jul 14, 2020 | Maritime Law |

Life at sea is demanding. Long shifts are common. Workers spend long weeks or months away from their friends and family. And they face greater risks of workplace injuries and fatalities.

However, not all injuries are visible. Some injuries aren’t even physical. Maritime jobs are among some of the most mentally and emotionally taxing jobs in the world. Their constant strains can wear you down. The result is that maritime workers are more likely to suffer mental health issues than those who work in offices back on shore.

The different paths toward recovery

When workers experience mental health problems as a result of their jobs, they can often seek some form of recovery. Maritime workers don’t get workers’ compensation, but you may have other options:

  • Maintenance and cure. If your mental health concerns lead to time away from work and treatment expenses, you might seek maintenance and cure. The right to maintenance and cure is a longstanding part of maritime law. It holds that your employer should pay your daily living expenses and medical bills until you are fit to return to work or have reached maximum recovery. This is generally the case anytime you suffer an injury during your employment, regardless of fault.
  • The Jones Act and The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). These acts may provide you some relief if your injury or illness results from your employer’s negligence or that of a coworker. The acts are similar, but they cover different groups of maritime workers. Claims made under these acts may include such things as the pain and suffering tie to mental health problems, but you need to show how someone’s failures or bad behavior led to your problems.
  • Unseaworthiness. Ship owners and operators need to maintain their vessels’ seaworthiness. This means more than staying afloat. Seaworthiness is typically understood as a ship’s ability to safely perform its intended function. Accordingly, if a faulty crane or winch led to your broken arm, you might argue the injury was due to the ship’s unseaworthiness. This is the case even if your employer had taken all reasonable precautions. Similarly, if a ship’s design doesn’t offer you reasonable protection from physical abuse, and that abuse traumatizes you, you might claim the ship’s unseaworthiness was at fault for your trauma.

While these different parts of maritime law may provide a path toward recovery, workers have historically faced higher barriers for mental health claims than for claims based on physical injuries. Even so, the law recognizes that mental health issues are real. For example, courts understand that people who need amputations for damaged limbs may later suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And there have been cases where the courts have ruled in favor of harassment victims.

Staying healthy in unprecedented times

Maritime workers have long endured rough conditions. Even in the best conditions, the isolation, long hours and fatigue can take their toll on your mental health. But we’re not currently in the best of times. Instead, as insurance companies are well aware, we’re sailing into unprecedented times. Global health concerns have separated tens of thousands of sailors from their families and made it hard for others to work.

Such conditions can easily wear you down. Still, your employer has a duty to safeguard your health. This means your physical health, and it may mean your mental health as well. History has shown that it’s often hard for sailors and other maritime workers to win compensation for mental health issues. But it’s not impossible. As the times are changing, the courts may view cases differently. An experienced maritime law attorney can look at your case and help you understand your chances of successfully winning fair compensation.