A newspaper in South African reports that a man cruising aboard a MSC cruise ship has sued the cruise line, Mediterranean Shipping Company, for damages after experiencing a heart attack last year. The incident took place in April of 2011 while Hilton Curgenven was sailing aboard the MSC Sinfonia.
The gist of the lawsuit is that the cruise line allegedly provided Mr. Curgenven with sub-standard care and then dumped him in a port alone on a stretcher of the wharf. He alleges that the shipboard care consisted only of giving him an injection following which he went into a coma for six weeks. Instead of airlifting him to a hospital, the cruise ship abandoned him at port in Durban and left a note on the stretcher diagnosing him with "severe chest pain and myocardial infarct . . . " He claims that "thankfully, someone who knew me called an ambulance . . ."
The case highlights some of the issues we have warned about in this blog, namely that the medical care on cruise ships is limited. Cruise lines are spending over a billion dollars building some cruise ships. But instead of investing in medical technology and premier doctors, the lines are paying for skating rinks, rock climbing walls, and flowrider attractions.
The case also reveals that, as a general proposition, doctors and nurses on cruise ships are considered to be "independent contractors" for whom the cruise lines are not responsible. The ship doctors may appear and act like they are ship employees but they are characterized as independent contractors in the fine print of the cruise ship ticket.
MSC Cruises responded to the lawsuit saying that Curgenven had entered into a contract knowing the Sinfonia was not equipped as a hospital and that medical personnel were not specialists. The cruise line also points out that Curgenven had failed to purchase his own insurance as well.
November 11, 2014 Update: Breaking News! Cruise passengers are now permitted to sue the cruise lines for medical negligence. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that cruise lines are no longer permitted to assert an "immunity defense" when their ship doctors and nurses commit medical malpractice. Read: 11th Circuit Rejects Cruise Lines’ Immunity Defense to Medical Malpractice Claims. Contact us for further information.
Photo credit: Wikipedia / Edgar Freitas