Cruise ships may now be liable for medical malpractice

In 2011, an 82-year-old retired policeman embarked on a dream vacation with 18 family members that would ultimately end in a nightmare.

He fell and hit his head while disembarking a ship at a port of call. Then, a mere cursory examination by a nurse in the ship’s infirmary led to a delayed diagnosis of a severe head trauma that ultimately resulted in his death. By the time his condition had worsened enough for him to be diagnosed by a doctor, it was too late to save his life.

Like thousands of families in Connecticut and across the United States, this family chose to take a cruise together. Cruises tend to be good options for family vacations because there are plenty of activities to interest everyone from small children to grandparents.

This is probably why 21 million people take cruises each year. But this particular family had no idea that their vacation would end with tragedy.

The family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the cruise line, claiming that the nurse failed to take reasonable steps that would have saved the man’s life. Unfortunately, this family, like most passengers, was unaware that financial compensation from a cruise line for medical malpractice of on-board medical staff was (until recently) unavailable. Under federal case law, cruise lines are not liable for the medical malpractice of their doctors and nurses who generally work as independent contractors.

However, a recent ruling in this case by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has U.S. jurisdiction over most cruise lines, has changed all of that.

The court went against previously established case law by holding that it no longer applies, because the medical personnel wear ship uniforms, appear to be cruise line employees, and the cruise lines boast about their advanced medical facilities in their brochures.

This is good news for the millions of people who take a cruise each year, because the risk of illness and injury does not go on vacation when we do. If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney to learn your options.

Source: CT Post, “Ruling opens door for cruise malpractice lawsuits,” Curt Anderson, Dec. 23, 2014

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