For over 100 years, cruise ship companies have not had to defend medical malpractice lawsuits, after a series of court cases granted them immunity. The courts had previously ruled that passengers on cruise vacations should not expect the same quality of care on a ship as they do on land, and that the ship cannot control the doctors and nurses on the ship because they are private contractors. However, the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over the large Florida-based cruise lines Royal Caribbean and Carnival, recently decided that this rule for cruise ship malpractice suits is outdated. The USA Today reported on the “cruise of a lifetime” that turned fatal for one passenger.
The decision comes after a family sued Royal Caribbean for medical malpractice when an 82–year-old man fell and hit his head in 2001, while vacationing on the company’s “Explorer of the Seas.” The injury would eventually lead to the retired New York City Policeman and Korean War veteran’s death. After falling, the man was immediately taken to the emergency medical care unit on the ship. A nurse did a “cursory examination” of him, noting a bump and scratch on his head but did not conduct or recommend a diagnostic scan. She sent him back to his cabin to rest in case he had a concussion. When the man’s condition worsened, his daughter contacted medical personnel. It allegedly took 20 minutes for the staff to provide a wheelchair to take her father to the infirmary, where there was another delay to collect credit card information. He was finally examined four hours after the incident by the ship’s doctor and was referred to a hospital in Bermuda. Due to the brain trauma and internal bleeding, the man died within days of the incident.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit decided that cruise line companies’ exemption from medical malpractice lawsuits should no longer apply. The Cruise Lines International Association mandates that every cruise ship have medical personnel available at all times and must “maintain high-standard medical care.” The judges noted that the doctor and nurse that treated the man were wearing Royal Caribbean uniforms, were presented as employees, and were promoted as being high-quality.
The ruling gives the family a chance to prove their claims that the medical staff on Royal Caribbean ship were negligent in treating the fall. The family can reach a settlement if the cruise line company choses to offer compensation, or they can try to get a Miami jury to award damages. The greater implications of the ruling, however, are that there is no longer a zero-liability standard in place, and that cruise lines must now have available competent medical care for the 21 million people that take cruise vacations annually.
Identifying whether an individual has a valid medical malpractice case can be complicated and time-consuming process. The medical malpractice lawyers at Lopez McHugh are available to discuss your legal options. If you have suffered a significant injury from a misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose, contact us today. There is no cost or obligation for the initial consultation and your information will be kept confidential.