Maintain a Seaman’s Protection or Cure a Seaman’s Fraud? Weighing the Proper Balance Between Seamen and Employers

Wallace Boudreaux had been working less than five months when he first filed for maintenance and cure from his employer, Transocean Deepwater, Inc. After working on the anchor of a Transocean vessel in May 2005, he claimed that he had injured his back due to the company’s negligence. Transocean thereafter began making maintenance and cure payments to Boudreaux. These awards did not satisfy the seaman, though, and almost three years later, in April 2008, he sued for further damages. The suit led Transocean to a revelation during discovery: in his initial medical interview with the company, Boudreaux never acknowledged that he had had back injuries and pain as early as 1997. Based on this concealment, Transocean filed a motion for summary judgment, leading the district court to dismiss Boudreaux’s maintenance and cure claims in April 2010. By that point, though, Transocean had already paid him $276,263.36 over nearly five years. Wishing to recover the money, the company filed a counterclaim for restitution in June 2010. It then filed a motion for summary judgment on the counterclaim, arguing that because it successfully showed that it was not responsible for further maintenance and cure payments, the court should also grant it restitution for those payments already made in order to avoid unjust enrichment. The district court agreed with this argument and granted Transocean’s motion for summary judgment on the counterclaim for restitution. Boudreaux appealed, leading the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to consider the novel issue of whether a maritime employer should automatically be granted restitution for prior maintenance and cure payments where the employer successfully defends against further payments by showing that an employee intentionally concealed a relevant, preexisting medical condition. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that an employer is not entitled to an automatic right of action for restitution of maintenance and cure payments obtained by a seaman after an inaccurate medical interview, although the employer can use these prior payments to offset further Jones Act damages. Boudreaux v. Transocean Deepwater, Inc., 721 F.3d 723, 728, 2013 AMC 2457, 2464 (5th Cir. 2013).