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Appeals Court Won’t Reconsider Cruise Medical Malpractice Ruling

A federal appeals court has refused to reconsider an earlier decision that opened the door for medical malpractice cases to be filed against cruise lines for accidents that happen to their passengers. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected an application by the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line last week asking to revisit the ruling of the lower court.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., on July 23, 2011, Pasquale Vaglio was a passenger aboard the Royal Caribbean “Explorer of the Seas” with eighteen other family members on a cruise. The boat traveled to Bermuda, and after docking Mr. Vaglio fell while boarding a trolley “at or near the dock” and suffered a severe blow to the head. Although it would have been possible to take him to a hospital on the island, Mr. Vaglio was instead taken in a wheelchair to the ship’s infirmary and his family was told that it was a requirement to go there.

He first entered the infirmary around 10:00 a.m. where he was examined and told that he was fine to return to his cabin. He received no further care until around 12:15 p.m. when his family members noticed deterioration in Mr. Vaglio’s status. His family called 911, but it took over twenty minutes for someone to arrive to take him to the infirmary. Another delay occurred when the cruise ship personnel refused to examine him without his credit card information.

Around 1:45 p.m. Mr. Vaglio was finally seen by the ship’s physician, who then ordered him to a Bermuda hospital for care. By the time that he arrived at the hospital it was too late, and Mr. Vaglio passed away the next week after being airlifted to a hospital in New York.

Court Ruling

For over one hundred years, passengers aboard cruise ships and other water vessels could not sue for medical malpractice under what was known as the “Barbetta rule.” Under this rule, the courts previously reasoned that passengers should not expect the same level of medical care on a ship as on land, and ships’ doctors and nurses were private contractors beyond the cruise lines’ direct control.

However, the court in Mr. Vaglio’s case disagreed, and it held that the Barbetta rule should no longer apply to medical malpractice cases that occur on cruise lines. The judges stated that in this case, the Royal Caribbean doctor and nurse wore cruise line uniforms, were presented as employees, and that the onboard medical center was described glowingly in promotional materials. Some modern cruise ships, they noted, have sophisticated intensive-care units, laboratories, and the ability to do live video conference links with medical experts on shore.

The Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has since appealed that decision to the federal Circuit Court, where this week it refused to reconsider the lower court’s ruling. Royal Caribbean can still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for reconsideration, but for now the way seems clear for passengers to sue cruise lines for medical malpractice claims.

Contact a Florida Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you or someone that you know in the West Palm Beach area has been injured by medical malpractice while on a cruise, let the experienced attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates help. Call or contact the office today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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