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Miami Cruise Ship Lawyers Analyze 3rd DCA of Florida Case Demonstrating Challenges of Obtaining Jurisdiction Over Negligent Cruise Ship Doctors

Our cruise ship lawyers recognize that the challenges in pursuing legal claims for medical malpractice aboard a cruise ship can be a daunting task.  Cruise lines and ship medical personnel often structure their contractual relationships and take advantage of legal procedures and requirements to avoid liability.  In this blog, we examine an appellate decision in a medical malpractice case that left the plaintiff with essentially nowhere to pursue a lawsuit against the ship’s doctor personally.  The trial judge even observed that the doctor had engaged in “nefarious” conduct to ensure that he could not be sued in any court for his medical malpractice.

In Taylor v. Gutierrez, the plaintiff was a passenger on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas cruise ship.  The plaintiff began suffering intense abdominal pain, so she was taken to the ship’s medical facility to be examined.  The ship’s doctor diagnosed the passenger with gastritis, which is a relatively minor medical condition.  The passenger’s condition became worse, which led to her hospitalization in Mexico.  The patient subsequently discovered that her abdominal infection had been misdiagnosed.  Her worsened condition necessitated abdominal surgery to treat multiple organ failures caused by sepsis.  She also experienced a cerebral hemorrhage.

When the passenger filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor Royal Caribbean Cruises, the physician moved to dismiss the lawsuit based on lack of personal jurisdiction.  The trial court found that the court did not have specific jurisdiction over the doctor under the Florida long-arm statute.  Personal jurisdiction in this context refers to the court’s power to exercise authority over the defendant.  Specific jurisdiction requires that the claim arise out of the activity that constitutes the defendant’s contacts with the state.   However, the trial judge found general jurisdiction existed under another part of the long arm statute that authorized jurisdiction based on the defendant’s “substantial and not isolated activity” within the state.  This provision like those of many other long-arm statutes required more extensive and continuous contacts than what was required for special jurisdiction.

The passenger highlighted an array of activity in support of a finding of general jurisdiction under the statute.  The doctor worked on the cruise ship that traveled in and out of Florida ports.  He also was a speaker at medical conferences and maintained bank accounts in Florida.  The physician also had worked under employment contracts with the cruise line in Florida for nine years.  The employment agreement specifically provided that Florida would have jurisdiction over any disputes arising out of the contract.  The passenger also presented evidence that the doctor received a Florida certification for advanced cardiac life support.

The trial judge upheld the finding that the court had general jurisdiction over the doctor and impugned his motives by indicating that he played a “shell game” as part of a “nefarious scheme” to shield himself from medical malpractice liability in ANY court.  The 3rd DCA reversed the trial judge finding that the doctor’s activities were not sufficient to meet the more substantial contacts that are “substantial, continuous, and systematic” that are required to justify general jurisdiction.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence 

Because this medical malpractice lawsuit involved a negligent doctor on a cruise ship, the passenger was faced with the unique challenge.  The doctor lived on the ship which essentially made it so there was no place the passenger could sue the doctor.  As the trial court pointed out, it appeared the doctor had set up his living situation so that he could not be sued in any state or federal court.  Our Miami cruise injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the fullest financial compensation.  For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida.  We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.  Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald.   Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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