Recently, a federal court of appeals opened the door for medical malpractice claims against cruise line companies. Historically, state and federal courts have held that passengers cannot sue a cruise ship’s medical personnel for medical malpractice. With this recent ruling, plaintiffs may now be able to recover for such claims.
In Franza v. Royal Caribbean, Ltd., a passenger aboard a Royal Caribbean ship was traveling with his spouse and children when he fell while boarding a trolley by the dock on a stop in Bermuda and suffered severe injuries to his head. Instead of being referred for medical services on the shore, the ship required him to go to the medical facility on the ship for treatment. A ship nurse examined the passenger and advised him that he was ok to go back to his cabin. However, hours later, the passenger’s family called for emergency assistance, and it took staff nearly twenty minutes to come and bring the passenger to the ship infirmary. Additionally, the medical staff on board refused to examine the passenger until the family provided credit card information.
Four hours after the passenger’s initial visit, he was finally examined by the ship physician. During the evaluation, the doctor ordered ship personnel to transfer the passenger to the local hospital in Bermuda. The passenger arrived at the hospital more than six hours after he was first examined by the ship nurse, and the court found that by that time, the passenger was in critical condition. The next day, the passenger was airlifted to a hospital in the United States and stayed in intensive care there until his death a week later. The passenger’s wife then filed suit against Royal Caribbean for the medical negligence or malpractice of the ship doctor and the nurse under general maritime law. The federal district court dismissed the complaint, stating that US maritime law has adopted a rule that immunizes a ship’s company for the medical malpractice of its employees. The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal. According to the Court, changes in the legal relationships and the complex development of cruise ship companies, along with technological advances in communications, means cruise ships should not enjoy immunity from medical malpractice suits. Cruise ships now regularly employ medical professionals. Therefore, the court found that the only question that must be answered is whether the medical employees were acting as agents of the cruise ship when they rendered services that constituted medical negligence and were under the direction and control of the company.
Royal Caribbean alternatively argued that the ticket contract signed by the passenger limits the company’s liability for medical services rendered on board. According to the company, the ticket states that medical personnel on the ship are independent contractors and not employees or agents. However, the court decided that the issue was of whether they were independent contractors should be decided by the jury and was insufficient to support an outright dismissal. Therefore, the court of appeals reversed the dismissal and ordered the district court to move forward with the case.
Cruise ship personal injury claims are complex as they may involve issues of admiralty and maritime law. These claims are highly specialized and require expertise unique to the cruise ship industry. If you were injured on board a cruise ship, the Miami cruise ship accident lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 combined years of experience representing cruise ship injury clients across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.