CBC News in Canada published a story this week about cruise passenger Bernie Hamilton, age 66, who died following a Holland America Line ("HAL") cruise due to what sounds like a series of errors by the ship's medical personnel. The article is entitled "Cruise Death Prompts Warning on Ships' Medical Care."
I have heard these stories time after time over the years. A couple excited about a dream vacation. The husband experiences medical issues during the cruise which a competent doctor ashore would easily handle. But due to blunders by the cruise ship medical team, the wife returns home alone to face the cruise line's denials of responsibility for the suffering and death.
In Bernie Hamilton's case, you can read about the ship doctor's misdiagnosis by concluding that Mr. Hamilton had just a common cold or perhaps asthma which led to a prescription of Ventolin which accelerates a patient's heart rate. You can read that after Mr. Hamilton collapsed on the floor of the cabin, his wife Heather had to witness the spectacle of the medical personnel trying to decipher the instructions for the automatic defibrillator as precious minutes ticked away on her husband's life.
After the ship medical team struggled to insert an intravenous line and intubation tube and finally "stabilized" Mr. Hamilton, the ship put Mr. Hamilton ashore in Spain where the shore-side doctors declared him brain dead.
Ms. Hamilton received no apologies from HAL. The cruise line is quoted in the article saying that they "believe the care provided to Mr. Hamilton was appropriate." All that Ms. Hamilton received from HAL was a bill for $2,000.
The article mentions other similar stories by members of the non-profit International Cruise Victims organization. Also quoted is Miami lawyer, and my friend, Phil Gerson who is quoted saying: "They advertise that they do have a medical clinic on board . . . and they actually sell those services to their passengers. But they don't tell them … that they have no legal responsibility for the carelessness of the medical personnel."
Last year, I wrote an article "If the Ship Doctor Kills You, Too Bad" which explains the dangers provided by the limited nature of cruise ship medical care and the difficulty seeking compensation when malpractice of the ship doctor or nurses harms your family.
Yes, doctors and nurses make mistakes, but a cruise ship is about the only place where a doctor can negligently kill your loved one and there is no accountability.
As I mentioned last year, as long as cruise lines are not liable for bad medical care, there is no financial incentive for the ships to invest in training and hiring more qualified and experienced doctors and nurses.
There is no economic or moral justification for such an inequitable situation. The cruise industry collects over $35 billion dollars a year and pays no Federal income taxes by registering their cruise ships in foreign countries. As long as travel agents, cruise fans and the public are indifferent to these type of stories, in the future other families will experience the horror of dream vacations going terribly wrong.
Photo credit: CBC News / Heather Hamilton