Cruise Ship Doctors Can Be Sued for Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice can take many forms, from an inaccurate diagnosis to a failed surgery. Medical malpractice can also occur in many different places, including cruise ships. Many modern cruise ships have nurses, doctors, and even intensive care units, but until recently, many cruise liners expected to be immune from medical malpractice suits. A recent Florida appellate case, however, affirmed the right of passengers to sue cruise lines for medical malpractice.
Immunity for Cruise Liners
In 2011, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines passenger Pasquale Vaglio fell and injured his head while the cruise liner was docked in Bermuda. Allegedly, the ship’s nurse failed to conduct diagnostic scans or otherwise assess his injuries, and released him without further treatment. The ship’s doctor purportedly failed to see Vaglio for roughly four hours. Although Vaglio was eventually seen in a Bermuda hospital, and eventually airlifted to a New York intensive care unit, he died from his injuries within a week.
For decades, however, cruise lines have been immune from medical malpractice suits. Several courts applied, or expected to apply, a 1988 Fifth Circuit case which completely immunized cruise ships from medical malpractice liability on the theory that cruise ship health care providers are independent contractors. Cruise lines remained immune even if the negligence was egregious and even if the cruise line clearly supervised the medical staff. Further, it is often difficult to directly sue the foreign-domiciled doctors often hired by cruise liners. Accordingly, the Southern District of Florida initially dismissed Vaglio’s family’s wrongful death case.
Appellate Court Changes Course
At the appellate level, however, the Eleventh Circuit court overturned the lower court’s ruling and the precedent of immunity. The decision disclaimed the 1988 case, noting that modern state-of-the-art cruise ships have more control over their medical staff, due to advances in cellular and satellite communication. In addition, the medical staff were paid by the cruise line and wore cruise line uniforms. Comparable institutions, such as universities, would be held liable in analogous circumstances. Finally, the court also observed that cruise liners profit from providing medical staff on-hand, and argued that cruise lines should not profit from the health care providers without being subject to immunity. Accordingly, Vaglio’s family will be able to pursue relief.
Some have expressed the concern that the ruling would drive cruise liners out of Florida and the Eleventh District, and to prefer coastlines where they would remain immune from malpractice suit. Others, however, have expressed the hope that the ruling would encourage cruise liners to improve their medical care systems and to eschew foreign-domiciled, foreign-educated doctors. The American College of Emergency Physicians now provides guidelines for cruise ship medical facilities, which require adequate provisions and qualified staff, including at least one professional certified in advanced trauma life support.
This decision affirms your right to seek recompense from your negligent healthcare provider, no matter the location of the injury. Wherever you were injured, or your medical condition worsened, as a result of medical malpractice, experienced Fort Lauderdale medical malpractice attorney Scott Newmark can help you navigate your potential claim.