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Is Cruise Line Liable For Medical Malpractice On Board?

April 04, 2017

This question arose after a series of tragic events took the life of a vacationer whose family was left brokenhearted. The answer, unfortunately, is not immediately apparent. The answer may depend on where you bring a claim for damages.

The victim and his family were enjoying a cruise out of Florida when the tragic events unfolded. The victim, who was vacationing with his family, fell while on the dock after going ashore in Bermuda. He was trying to board a trolley-type vehicle when he fell and struck his head. The attendants took him to the ship's infirmary.

A nurse, who was employed by the cruise line, was on duty in the infirmary. She examined the man's wounds. She saw that he had a bump and a scrape on his head. The nurse performed a cursory examination and declared the man was fit to return to his stateroom. The nurse advised that the stricken man might have a concussion but that he was otherwise okay. The nurse failed to call for the ship's physician and failed to order any diagnostic screening for a head injury.

While under the watchful eye of his family back in their cabin, the man's health deteriorated. The family called the emergency line on the ship and asked for help with the injured man. Twenty minutes had passed before help arrived. The attendant wheeled the man to the infirmary. The ship's doctor had reached the infirmary to examine the person. Notwithstanding the man's dire situation, the doctor refused medical treatment until credit card information was confirmed. The ship's doctor examined his patient and ordered that he be immediately transported to a hospital in Bermuda for treatment. The doctor gave the order some four hours after the man's initial visit to the infirmary. He was transported to the hospital in Bermuda and eventually airlifted to a New York hospital where he tragically week later. Sinilar to the nurse, the doctor was employed by the cruise line as well.

The man's daughter brought a claim for medical malpractice against the physician and the nurse. Additionally, the daughter tried to include the cruise line in the claim. She alleged that the cruise line was responsible for the malpractice of their employees. A federal court in Florida, under these circumstances, agreed with her. The ruling, however, is not the law in every state.

An employer is responsible for their employee's actions that injure another. The legal theory is called respondeat superior. Essentially, the theory holds the employer responsible for the employee's negligence when the employee is engaged on behalf of the employer. In many other master-servant relationships, whether cruise line should be responsible for the malpractice of its physician is not a question. A hospital is expected to answer for the negligence of its physicians if the physician is an employee and not an independent contractor.

The main difference, in this case, was that the malpractice occurred on the high seas and not on land. Admiralty law applies to claims arising on cruise ships. General admiralty principles do not hold the ship's owner responsible for medical malpractice. The Florida court decided that justice dictates that the cruise line is held responsible under these facts for the malpractice of its doctor.

Other facts might yield different results, and other courts might rule differently. If you or a loved one was injured on a cruise line, you should be aware that the time to file a claim is limited. Consult an experienced cruise ship injury attorney as soon as possible to learn about your legal rights and options.

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Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 772 F. 3d 1225 - Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 2014

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