Medical Malpractice on a Cruise Ship May Now Be a Viable Claim

If you’re on a cruise ship, and you’re injured as a result of medical malpractice, federal law which governs injuries at sea has been fairly consistent that you cannot recover damages against the cruise line as a result of the negligence.

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There have been all kinds of excuses to deny recovery under a malpractice theory. One shouldn’t expect the same medical care on a ship as they do on land. Cruise ships are not floating hospitals, and shouldn’t be held to a medical malpractice standard the same way real medical facilities are. Or, the doctors on the ship are independent contractors, and thus, the cruise ship can’t be responsible for their negligence.

But a recent case now seems to be turning the law around, providing medical malpractice victims at sea a possible remedy under federal laws.

Passenger Dies After Injury at Sea

The case involves a man who hit his head while onboard, and went to the medical facility on a Royal Caribbean ship. After a cursory review (and no scans) the doctor said for him to simply rest. The man went back to his cabin, but after feeling worse, was taken back to the infirmary. Four hours after his accident, he was finally sent to a hospital in Bermuda.

The passenger had suffered a traumatic brain injury, which would lead to his death days later.

The family alleged the doctors should have recognized the injury, and gotten the passenger immediate help.

Federal Court Allows Malpractice Claim

A federal appeals court has now determined that Royal Caribbean can be sued for the negligence of its doctors, in a reversal from settled maritime law. The appeals court noted that Royal Caribbean had touted its medical facilities in promotional materials, and that the medical staff wore Royal Caribbean uniforms. It also noted that most cruise ships today have very advanced medical care equipment, laboratories on board, and the technology to speak live with doctors on shore.

Thus, the court felt there was no longer any need to exempt cruise ships from medical malpractice claims.

Royal Caribbean, of course, disagrees with the ruling, feeling that cruise ships shouldn’t be punished for having advanced medical facilities on board. It contends it is not in the health care business; it’s in the travel/cruise business.

But the appeals court has thus far refused to reconsider their ruling. The United States Supreme Court court take the matter up in the future.

Proving Medical Malpractice On a Cruise

If the ruling stands, the key to proving a medical malpractice claim will be to demonstrate a “connection” between ship doctors and the cruise company. That shouldn’t be difficult, as most cruise lines spend money on maintaining full medical facilities, and many cruise line associations even require a ship to have medical staff on board.

The case opens the door to a new avenue of recovery, but one that should have been recognized a long time ago. Hopefully, it will also raise the level and quality of medical care provided on cruise ships as well.

Remember that you have rights as a passenger on a cruise ship, and if you’re injured as a cruise passenger, you want attorneys that understand the federal maritime laws. Talk to the Florida cruise ship attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your cruise injury case.

Photo Credit: Sarah_Ackerman via Compfight cc

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