Around 21 million people take cruises every year. Cruise lines market their ships as floating towns, complete with shops, restaurants, libraries, salons, gyms and more. They get you excited about your accommodations, shore excursions, onboard entertainment, arts and crafts for the kids, etc. Buried in the fine print, some of them even mention their medical facilities. What they do not mention is that up until recently, if something went wrong, the courts would throw out your medical malpractice lawsuit because of a longstanding exemption enjoyed by cruise lines.
Outdated Law Places Passenger-Patients at Disadvantage
The exemption began through a series of court decisions and evolved over the course of more than 100 years. The rulings consistently held that passengers should not expect the same level of medical care on a ship as on land, and that the doctors and nurses who work on ships are private contractors beyond the cruise lines' direct control. Major cruise companies such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival have regularly relied upon this immunity to get medical malpractice lawsuits thrown out before trial.
Currently, the protection is in jeopardy. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (this jurisdiction includes Florida) recently decided that the exception is outdated law, considering the advancement of technology on cruise ships and the growth of the industry. The decision means that the survivors of an 82-year-old man who died after hitting his head while on a Royal Caribbean cruise will get a chance to prove that cruise medical staff was negligent in his death. The judges noted that the medical staff wore cruise line uniforms, were presented as ship employees and that the onboard medical center was vividly described in promotional materials.
The victim had been seen by a nurse at the ship’s medical unit immediately after falling and hitting his head while the Explorer of the Seas was in port in Bermuda in 2011. The nurse allegedly neither conducted nor recommended a diagnostic scan, but simply advised him to rest. Four hours after the accident and suffering from internal bleeding in his skull, the victim was examined by the ship's doctor and sent to a hospital in Bermuda. He was subsequently airlifted to a New York hospital and died a week later.
A Vacation or Your Health?
The cruise line is lobbying for the full federal appeals court to reconsider the panel's ruling, contending that Royal Caribbean is in the business of providing vacations, not health care. Because the ruling conflicts with other circuits' decisions, it could ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court. Proving that cruise lines control their medical staff and that they are not independent contractors is likely the key for the ruling to stand and medical malpractice lawsuits to succeed. There is some evidence of that control, such as the requirement by the official trade organization of the North American cruise industry that members must have medical staff aboard all ships around the clock.
When you finally get to go on that trip of a lifetime, that cruise to a tropical island or a faraway land, you don’t think about getting sick or whether you would able to file a successful medical malpractice claim if something went wrong. That’s why we’re here.
If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to contact Stabinski & Funt, P.A. by calling (305) 643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We have been the trusted advocates for countless injured victims throughout South Florida since 1970 and we can fight for your rights to the fullest extent of the law.
DISCLAIMER: The information about past verdicts and settlements is based on the unique facts of each case. Every case is different, and future cases may not achieve the same or similar results. These amounts reflect the gross recovery (before attorneys’ fees and expenses are deducted).DISCLAIMER: Any information about past verdicts and settlements is based on the unique facts of each case. Every case is different, and future cases may not achieve the same or similar results. These amounts reflect the gross recovery (before attorneys’ fees and expenses are deducted).