According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry association, in 2013 over 195,000 cruise passengers were from Pennsylvania. Cruise lines offer many people a chance to travel the world, and experience it in a unique way. However, as with any travel there is chance that a person may get injured or sick while on the cruise ship and may require medical attention. But, what if the passenger receives negligent medical care, such as the medical staff failing to diagnose a medical condition or providing delayed treatment while on board? Can the passenger sue the cruise line?
Nearly 25 years ago, a court ruling decreed that a passenger on a cruise line who received negligent medical care by medical staff on the cruise could sue the healthcare provider who provided the negligent care, but that the cruise line itself could not be sued. However, a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling changed this quarter-century-old doctrine. The most recent ruling notes that because a cruise line employs medical staff, and if its medical staff provides negligent care, the cruise line as the employers of the negligent medical staff can also be sued.
This recent decision stems for a case involving the well-known cruise line Royal Caribbean Cruises. In the case, an elderly passenger who sought treatment allegedly received negligent medical care. According to court documents, the nurse failed to adequately assess the trauma the elderly passenger suffered to his head, did not order or conduct any diagnostic scans and instead released him without providing any treatment or follow-up. The elderly passenger died.
The family of the elderly passenger filed a lawsuit against Royal. It was initially dismissed based on the previous court doctrine. But, the U.S. Court of Appeals declined to follow the old doctrine and noted that the family of the elderly passenger had a plausible claim against the cruise line since the cruise line was the employer of the medical staff member who allegedly provided negligent care.
Additionally, the court noted that the cruise line industry is evolving and is now a very complex industry. Despite this ruling, it is essential to remember that every case is different and it is important to have the specific facts of each evaluated.
Source: Clinical Advisor, “Patients can now sue cruise lines for medical malpractice,” Amy Latner, December 12, 2014