Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice – Are Ships Responsible?

When you are on a cruise, you are often miles out into the ocean, far away from land. While on the cruise you may be engaging in extreme sports, eating foods you aren’t used to eating, walking on rocking floors, and being in close contact with thousands of other passengers in a closed environment. With the chances of injury or illness being high, you would think that ships were equipped with medical facilities and personnel that were prepared to deal with any kind of medical emergency. Think again.

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Medical Facilities on Cruises

In fact, there is little regulation about what kind of medical facilities must be on board, and medical personnel may be licensed in countries that are not as stringent as the licensure requirements in the U.S.

Most facilities are more like infirmaries, or walk-in clinics than full scale hospitals. Most do not have diagnostic scanning equipment, such as MRIs or CT scans. And if you have a condition that the personnel can’t help you with, they can force you to get off the ship at the next port—which could be in a country that has inadequate medical facilities or doctors (or which your insurance may not cover).

While most cruise ships have simple pharmacies, they are likely to only carry the most basic drugs, and not any specialty or lesser used medications. And what medications you do use, aren’t included in your cruise fare—they’ll be added to your bill.

Malpractice on Cruises

If you are a victim of medical malpractice, and seek to sue for damages, there are a number of issues. The first is service of the lawsuit upon doctors who may live anywhere in the world. Doctors are generally not employees of the ships they work on, and thus, cannot be served by simply serving the cruise ship.

As far as liability, for a long time, the law was established that cruise ships could not be responsible for the malpractice of the on-board doctors, because the doctors were merely independent contractors, and a cruise ship is not in the business of providing medical care. Some courts felt it unfair to hold cruise lines responsible, because the injury in a malpractice cases arises from the relationship between the doctor and the patient, having nothing to do with the cruise lines.

But today, more courts are willing to hold cruise lines responsible for the malpractice of on-board physicians. Many courts accept the fact that while a cruise isn’t a floating hospital, it certainly can reasonably anticipate needing to provide medical care, and in fact the cruise line couldn’t be in business without having some kind of medical facilities on board.

Courts also are beginning to acknowledge that a passenger doesn’t have a choice of doctors or clinics—they must go to the on-board doctor. The lack of options gives the cruise line a heightened responsibility creating more of an agent relationship between cruise and doctor.

Malpractice claims are complex and difficult, and they’re even moreso when there’s a malpractice event at sea. If you are injured at sea, retain attorneys with maritime law experience. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

Photo Credit: Aleera* via Compfight cc

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