6 November 2015

Can Medical Staff on Cruise Ships be Held Liable for Malpractice?

Can Medical Staff on Cruise Ships be Held Liable for Malpractice
When you get sick or injured on a cruise ship, you are usually far away from familiar, land-based medical care. You instead must be treated by doctors, nurses, and other medical staff on board the cruise ship.

Most cruise ships are equipped to handle a decent variety of common medical issues. But what if you receive poor medical care while on board a ship? What if a doctor incorrectly diagnoses your illness, or makes your injuries worse?  Can you hold the staff and the cruise line responsible?

Medical Malpractice on Cruise Ships: How Does It Work?

On land, there are a wide variety of state laws governing malpractice suits against doctors and other medical professionals. These claims assert that a medical professional failed to provide the level of care that a reasonable person would expect from another professional in the same field of medicine.

Cruise ships, however, are often subject to maritime law, which can be very different from the laws of Florida. When bringing any kind of legal claim against a cruise company or its staff, an attorney with a strong background in maritime law is crucial to navigating the case successfully.

So, how does malpractice work when cruise medical care is involved? Medical staff members on cruise ships can be held accountable for malpractice. Until recently, however, the cruise ship company that hired them could not.

Overturning the Barbetta Rule

Overturning the Barbetta Rule

Until 2014, it was very difficult to obtain adequate compensation for medical malpractice on a cruise ship. This was due largely to something called the Barbetta rule.

The Barbetta rule refers to a ruling from 1988, in which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that cruise lines were not responsible for the mistakes or carelessness of their medical staff. Cruise ships had legal protection from any medical suits brought against them under this rule. Medical staff were considered independent contractors, not the employees of the ship they worked on.

Fortunately, this outdated ruling was recently overturned by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In the case of Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd, the court refused to endorse the Barbetta rule.

The death of a man on a Royal Caribbean (RCCL) cruise ship was at the center of this case. Pasquale Vaglio was an elderly cruise ship passenger who fell and bashed his head while his Royal Caribbean Cruise was docked in Bermuda.

The medical care Vaglio received from the ship staff was astonishingly negligent. His estate alleges that the ship’s nurse failed to properly assess Valglio’s cranial trauma or run any diagnostic tests. The nurse released him without any kind of treatment. The onboard doctor did not meet with Vaglio for almost four hours. Vaglio died a week later, and his estate sued RCCL for wrongful death.

In their decision, the court opined that “the rise of a complex cruise industry, and the progression of modern technology have erased whatever utility the Barbetta rule once may have had.”

Holding Staff and Cruise Companies Accountable

This new ruling puts power back in the hands of customers who have been mistreated by a cruise company. Whether your injury is the result of a cruise ship company’s negligence or the malpractice of the staff that treated you, the law allows you to hold both of them accountable.

Crafting a winning strategy, however, requires knowledgeable legal representation – someone who understands both maritime law and personal injury cases.  If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice onboard a cruise ship, we would like to hear from you.

Anthony White:

Since 1994, seasoned litigation and trial lawyer Anthony B. White has helped thousands of accident victims seek damages due to injuries sustained as a result of another party’s negligence. Included in America’s Registry of Outstanding Professionals and selected to the 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions of Florida Super Lawyers, Mr. White specializes in car accidents, insurance disputes, wrongful death, product liability, and medical malpractice cases. He is a longstanding member of the Florida Justice Association and the American Association for Justice and currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Broward County Justice Association