Until this year, cruise lines were not responsible if a doctor or nurse on board a ship negligently treated a passenger. The passenger could sue the doctor or nurse, who were usually residents of a foreign country. This would make it very difficult to pursue a case.
Recently, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta recognized the right a cruise ship passenger to sue the cruise line directly for the negligence of doctors and nurses on board the ship.
This case involved an elderly passenger who had taken a Royal Caribbean cruise ship to Bermuda. While he was on the island, the passenger fell and struck his head. He was transported back to the ship and immediately went to the ship's medical center. He was first seen by a nurse, who did a short examination. She did not order any scans to diagnose his head injury. The doctor on the ship did not see the passenger for 4 hours. Then there was an additional delay when they would not treat the passenger until they had confirmed his credit card information.
It turned out that the passenger had a severe, life threatening brain injury. He was transported back to his home and admitted to the intensive care unit of a local hospital. Unfortunately, he died within a few days. The delay in treatment on board the ship was a substantial factor in causing his death.
The family members sued Royal Caribbean, claiming that the cruise line should be held responsible for the negligence of its medical staff. Because of the requirement in the passenger ticket, the case had to be filed in Miami, Florida. The judge dismissed the case, saying that the cruise line was not responsible for the negligence of its medical staff. The federal appeals court, in Atlanta, reversed that decision, saying that the passenger's family had a right to sue Royal Caribbean directly. The appeals court noted that modern cruise ships have extensive medical centers and Royal Caribbean had even advertised that its ships have state of the art medical facilities, which creates confidence in the public that if they have a medical problem while on board the ship, it can be properly treated.
This is an important decision that significantly expands passengers' rights and encourages cruise lines to ensure that their medical staff are properly trained and equipped. Overall, this decision will help keep passengers safe on board cruise ships.
If you have been injured on board a cruise ship, such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Norwegian or Disney, you have only a short period of time in which to pursue a case. Most lawyers do not handle cases against cruise lines. Our office has handled many such cases, and we offer a free initial consultation. We would be happy to discuss your cruise ship injury case with you. Please feel free to give us a call.