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
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Outdated Law Places Passenger-Patients at Disadvantage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includes Florida) recently decided that the exception is outdated law,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) 964-8644 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).