Jones Act employers must provide seamen with maintenance and cure if injured or become ill while in the service of the vessel.
However, there are certain defenses that allow employers to avoid maintenance and cure liability. For example, under the McCorpen defense employers may deny benefits to injured seamen who “knowingly fail to disclose a pre-existing physical disability during his pre-employment examination.”
What Is the McCorpen Defense?
The McCorpen defense is derived from a federal appeals court case called McCorpen v. Central Gulf Steamship Corp. In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that an injured seaman was not entitled to maintenance benefits because he failed to disclose during his pre-employment examination that he is diabetic.
Specifically, this is what a Jones Act employer must prove to succeed using the McCorpen defense:
- The seaman intentionally concealed or misrepresented pertinent medical facts;
- The undisclosed facts would have materially affected the employer’s decision to hire the seaman; and
- There is a connection between the undisclosed information and the seaman’s injury.
Whether a seaman acted intentionally or knew he was concealing information or misrepresenting facts is often a question for a jury. An experienced attorney can help you shape an effective case.
Recent Fifth Circuit Case
Denetra Thomas was working on an offshore drilling unit in 2013 when she allegedly suffered a lumbar strain and a right hip contusion. She claims the injury happened when her left foot struck a raised doorsill between a stateroom and bathroom.
Thomas filed a lawsuit against her employer, Hercules Offshore Services LLC, in 2015, seeking maintenance and cure benefits and alleging negligence and unseaworthiness under general maritime law. Hercules argued that it wasn’t liable because Thomas failed to disclose prior injuries. The court ruled in favor of Hercules.
Specifically, the court found that Thomas checked “No” on her employment application where it asked whether she had been treated for back, spine and other disorders, even though she admitted in a deposition that she previously injured her back in a car accident.
She also signed the part of the application asserting that she had “never sustained an injury or sought medical attention for a physical problem.” The court held that “the concealed injuries were material to Hercules’s decision to hire her” and that the “concealed injuries and her current injuries both involve her lower back and neck.”
Thomas’s nondisclosure checked all three boxes: intentional concealment of pertinent medical facts, the facts would have affected the employer’s decision to hire her, and there is a connection between that information and her current injuries. Thus under McCorpen, the court found that Thomas is not entitled to maintenance and cure benefits.
Contact an experienced attorney today if you find yourself in a similar situation.
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Contact Patrick Yancey Law Firm today for a free consultation if you have been injured while working as a seaman. Our experienced attorneys will help determine your eligibility for compensation under the Jones Act and other federal laws and then help recover damages for your injuries.