Three years ago, i wrote an article lamenting the sad state of affairs surrounding cruise ship medical care entitled: Medical Malpractice on the High Seas: Do Cruise Passengers Have Any Rights?

The answer, in short, was no.  I wrote that a cruise ship is about the only place on earth where a doctor can negligently kill your loved one and there is no accountability.

In “If the Ship Doctor Kills You, Too Bad,” I explained that passengers were plagued not only by the limited nature of cruise ship medical care but by the cruise industry’s immunity from legal responsibility. Cruise cruise lines were able to avoid all liability even when the ship doctor or nurses negligently Royal Caribbean Cruise Medical Careharmed the passenger.  Cruise lines had immunity for medical malpractice lawsuits under the antiquated “Barbetta doctrine.”

Passengers were left to seek accountability by trying to sue the doctor. This was problematic for several reasons. The doctor inevitably does not live in the U.S. and it was difficult to serve a ship doctor with a lawsuit or obtain personal jurisdiction over him in a U.S. court. Also, many ship doctors do not have liability insurance and have few assets.

You can read this case to see the extraordinary steps that the ship doctors and cruise lines went to to avoid liability even in clear cut cases where the doctor acted irresponsibly. Over the years, cruise lines fought tooth and nail to maintain their immunity from medical negligence on cruise ships even though they collect tens of billions of dollars a year and pay no U.S. taxes.

With the recent 11th Circuit decision in Franza v. Royal Caribbean, the law has now changed. Cruise lines are finally responsible when passengers receive bad medical care on cruise ships.

The landmark decision reflects the reality of the cruise industry today. Cruise lines are extremely wealthy, pay no U.S. taxes, and operate state-of-the-art medical facilities in what are essentially floating cities. Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, cost over $1,000,000,000 and is touted as the most sophisticated ship in the world.  Plus, it offers some of the most dangerous attractions in the cruise industry, with the iFly simulated sky-diving and FlowRider simulated surfing attractions. Why shouldn’t this cruise line be responsible when cruise passengers are seriously injured and then the cruise ship doctor commits malpractice?

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Photo Credit: Jim Walker

  • rey crisostomo

    How about if the ships doctors act irresponsibly with the ships crew?

    Most of the time, ships crew suffered maltreatment or act of irresponsibities among ships doctors.