Cruise passengers will be safer on the high seas in 2015, for three reasons.
1. Disney cruise line began employing lifeguards. After a 4 year old sustained a catastrophic brain injury when he nearly drown, Disney began hiring lifeguards to supervise cruise ship pools. Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival don’t, even though children have recently drowned or nearly-drowned in their ships’ pools. Disney should be acknowledged for taking responsible steps to make cruising safer for kids. Expect more cruise lines to come to their senses and hire lifeguards this year.
2. Passengers can sue cruise lines for the medical malpractice of cruise ship doctors and nurses. Under the antiquated "Barbetta doctrine," Passengers could not sue the ship doctors who were considered to be "independent contractors."
Passengers injured by the medical malpractice on a ship leaving Miami were left to seek accountability by trying to sue the doctor who inevitably does not live in the U.S. (Try suing a doctor or nurse in South Africa, Egypt or India). It was next to impossible to serve a ship doctor with a lawsuit or obtain personal jurisdiction over him in a U.S. court. Many ship doctors do not have liability insurance and have few assets. This case reveals the outlandish steps that the ship doctors and cruise lines took to avoid liability even in clear cut cases where the doctor acted irresponsibly.
With the recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Franza v. Royal Caribbean, the law has changed. The court abolished the "Barbetta doctrine" and provided a basis for families whose loved ones are maimed or killed to seek compensation from the cruise line itself. The cruise industry has been fighting to keep their immunity for decades. This represents a big loss for the $45,000,000,000 non-tax paying cruise industry, and a big win for the rights of cruise ship consumers. Cruise ship medical care should improve now that the cruise lines will finally face legal and financial consequences when their doctors negligently injure passengers.
3. Congress passes a new cruise safety law. The new law will force cruise lines to disclose all crimes on cruise ships and requires the name of the ship to be identified on a data base maintained by the Department of Transportation. Previously, the cruise industry’s trade organization watered the old law down such that only crimes which were officially investigated by law authorities who then closed their investigation had to be reported. This meant that cruise lines kept 95% of crimes on cruise ships secret. The cruise lines also refused to disclose which cruise ship was involved. With the new law, consumers will finally be able to see which cruise lines and which cruise ships have the most crimes and present the greatest danger to families.