Medical Risks Liability on Board: Cruise Ships

People usually travel to ports to set sail on cruise ships destined for exotic locations and relaxing vacation getaways. However, sometimes unsuspecting passengers have to derail their travel plans when they suffer serious injuries or are killed as a result of accidents or cruise line medical negligence. Recently, an accident on similar lines occurred to the family of Pasquale Vaglio who pursued the cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuit after Mr. Vaglio died of a brain injury on board the Royal Caribbean cruise liner “Explorer of the Seas.” (See Patricia Franza vs. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., No. 13-13067). Reports indicate that Mr. Vaglio, 82, on trip with his family, sustained head injury who disembarked from the ship for sightseeing at a Bermuda port. His family immediately took him to the ship’s sickbay for an examination where the nurse did not conduct a thorough examination and told Mr. Vaglio to rest in his cabin. Post few hours, the doctors examined and diagnosed him with a severe brain injury, which caused his death a few days later. Subsequently, the family of Mr. Vaglio pursued the cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuit after he died of a brain injury on board the Royal Caribbean cruise liner.

Legally, cases like cruise ship accident, personal injury and wrongful death are governed by federal admiralty and maritime law. The injuries occasionally occur as a result of the medical treatment itself. The majority of these cases involve medical treatment received on the ship from the ship’s doctor or other medical personnel. Some also involve medical treatment that occurs after the passenger or crewmember disembarks, or is airlifted off the ship. Generally, every cruise line virtually maintains an onboard hospital or infirmary to treat injured passengers and crew members in the event of injury but still if it comes to determine the liability legally of a cruise line, it varies depending largely on whether the injured person is a passenger or a crew member as the laws itself vary on it.

With reference to the Vaglio case, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on November 10, 2014[1] has withdrawn a long-time exemption for cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuits. This decision revokes many of the legal protection cruise lines had enjoyed against cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuits from passengers, such as the lack of adequate medical staff and facilities. This judgment overturned the case Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, 848 F.2d 1364 (1988) where the court held that cruise ship lines cannot be held liable in cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuits. On most cruise ships at that time, the medical staff was often foreign nationals and was outside of U.S. jurisdiction. Since the medical staff on cruise ships was largely independent contractors, the cruise line was also shielded from liability.

However, the lawyers representing Royal Caribbean are contending that it is an unfair judgment so as to negate the established precedent of Barbetta Case, made an appeal. One of the lawyers representing the cruise stated “Cruise ships are still not floating hospitals”.

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