Ruling Opens Door for Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Lawsuits to Be Filed By Passengers


Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Lawsuits: Court Rules Victims Have The Right to Hold Cruise Lines Responsible For The Negligence of the Shipboard Medical Staff.

Cruise-Ship-Medical-Malpractice-Lawsuits-SouthernMedLawAs more and more cruise ship passengers are getting sick or injured aboard floating cities people are looking for answers on how to hold the cruise companies liable. A resent ruling by the 11th District Court of Appeals may open the doors to cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuits. The court has reversed 100 years of court precedent that protected cruise companies from being sued by passengers for medical negligence that occurred aboard ships. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines attempted to argue the ruling, however the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the notion to return to the ruling to discussion. It was noted that zero of the 11th Circuit judges voted in support of the argument. Royal Caribbean could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to further fight the ruling as they are currently reviewing legal options.

On November 10, 2014 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal released their opinion that recognized the right of victims of medical malpractice, injured as cruise ship passengers, to hold cruise lines completely responsible for the negligence of the shipboard medical staff. The decision was a result of the case involving retired New York police officer Pasqual Vagilo, who died after suffering head injuries on an excursion in Bermuda. After the cruise liner named the Explorer of the Seas had docked in Bermuda, Vaglio fell and hit his head while aboard the ship. The injured elderly traveler was taken by wheelchair to the ship’s medical center in the back of the ship, seeking medical treatment from the onboard staff. Over the course a few hours, Vaglio allegedly received such poor attention from the medical staff that his life was no longer able to be saved. To be specific, in his first visit with a nurse he was restricted any medical assessments of his cranial trauma, neglected any diagnostic scans, and did not receive any treatment prior to his release. When the onboard doctor got involved and came to meet with Vaglio it had been nearly four hours since his arrival at the medical center. Vaglio unfortunately encountered another delay as the ship’s onboard staff refused to examine him before his credit card information was received by the personnel. Due to the poor and negligent care he received while aboard the ship, he passed away just one week later. His daughter, Patricia, was the person to file the suit holding Royal Caribbean vicariously liable for the negligence of the ship’s medical staff. A trial court had dismissed the lawsuit under the “Barbetta Rule” forcing her to appeal the case to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal. The rule was rejected after the circuit recognized the length of time maritime employers have been liable for the negligence demonstrated by their ship employees. (

Cruise lines were previously protected as a result of the Barbetta rule, an immunity defense that was first utilized in court in 1988. The rule granted immunity from liability to a ship owner in a situation where an employee provided negligent medical care to a passenger of the cruise ship. Cruise lines benefited greatly from the broad immunity as it did not matter if it was clearly shown the ship owner had control over the ship’s medical staff or “how egregious the claimed acts of negligence.” The Barbetta rule was designed for a period when most ships lacked medical facilities as well as onboard doctors and nurses, even ships fortunate enough to be equipped with medical staff often had very poor and unqualified medical teams. Cruise ships nowadays flaunt cutting edge medical facilities and boasts of American College of Emergency Physicians-approved doctors and infirmaries.

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