Maritime Update: Court Throws Out Maintenance and Cure Claim
On June 19, 2015, a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana dismissed a seaman's maintenance and cure claim in the case Ladnier v. REC Marine Logistics, LLC, ("REC") et al. because claimant failed to disclose a prior medical condition. This ruling illustrates that Louisiana courts will dismiss a maintenance and cure claim when an employer establishes intentional misrepresentation of facts material to the employee's ability to perform his job duties and there is a connection between the concealed medical facts and the injury that led to the maintenance and cure claim.
Plaintiff, Darrell Ladnier, was hired by REC as a vessel captain. On February 21, 2014, Ladnier participated in helicopter underwater escape training at a facility owned by Safety Zone Safety Systems, LLC ("STC"). Ladnier sat inverted in a helicopter simulator in a pool as part of the exercise. Plaintiff's safety belt did not operate properly when the simulator inverted, trapping him underwater and causing him to struggle to escape. Plaintiff injured his shoulder and was diagnosed with a right rotator cuff tear.
Plaintiff filed suit against REC and STC for negligence and sought maintenance and cure benefits from REC. REC refused to pay for a recommended surgery and moved to dismiss plaintiff's maintenance and cure claim, arguing that plaintiff was precluded from receiving maintenance and cure benefits because he concealed material facts relating to a pre-existing shoulder condition while completing REC's pre-employment medical history questionnaires. Plaintiff took the position that there was a material factual dispute over whether he intended to mislead his employer.
A basis for denying a seaman's maintenance and cure claim exists when an employer can establish three elements: (1) the employee-seaman intentionally misrepresented or concealed medical facts; (2) the misrepresented or concealed facts were material to the employer's hiring decision; and (3) there exists a causal link between the pre-existing disability that was concealed and the disability incurred during the voyage.
The Court found that plaintiff failed to disclose his bilateral shoulder impingement diagnosis and the nature of his arthritis or explain his past treatment for shoulder pain, including injections and prescription medication on the pre-employment questionnaires. The Court found that plaintiff intentionally misrepresented or concealed material facts because the questionnaires were designed to elicit such information.
REC's operation's manager declared that had plaintiff fully disclosed his medical history, REC would have required other medical information from plaintiff, including prior medical records and further evidence of his capability of performing the duties of a vessel captain before determining plaintiff's employability. The Court concluded that the information withheld regarding plaintiff's shoulder problems was material to REC's hiring decision. Finally, the Court held that there was a connection between the concealed medical facts and plaintiff's injury and dismissed plaintiff's maintenance and cure claim.
C. Why Is This Important?
- A finding of subjective intent to mislead is not needed. A seaman cannot avoid dismissal by solely claiming he/she did not intend to mislead his/her employer.
- A prudent employer will require a prospective employee-seamen to truthfully indicate his response verbally to the interviewer and in writing with each written response initialed by the prospective employee and the interviewer and with both the interviewer and the prospective employee signing each page.
- At the top of pre-employment questionnaire forms consider inserting the following: "Attention: You must answer truthfully regarding the below medical conditions. Failure to answer truthfully will result in immediate termination and forfeiture of workers compensation and forfeiture of maintenance and cure." This language puts the prospective employee on notice and can help employers frame a defense if material medical facts are not disclosed.
- A good pre-employment questionnaire and screening process are critical when evaluating prospective employee-seaman.