For the last 100 years, people who have been injured by doctors and nurses working for cruise ships have been unable to sue the cruise lines for medical malpractice. Courts have created exemptions for medical malpractice on cruise lines through a series of court decisions. The latest case to look at the issue occurred in 1988. That case said that passengers cannot expect the same level of medical care on a ship as on land. The court also said that doctors and nurses working for ships were private contractors beyond the direct control of cruise lines.

However, a recent case appears to have overturned the cruise lines’ exemption from medical malpractice lawsuits. The case originated in 2001 when an 82 year old retired policeman and veteran was taking a cruise with Royal Caribbean. He got off the ship for some sightseeing in Bermuda and fell and hit his head. He was taken to the ship’s infirmary. A nurse examined him briefly and said that he should rest in his cabin. She did not do a diagnostic scan. The nurse told his wife to keep an eye on him because he may have a concussion.

The man’s condition got steadily worse throughout the day. His daughter called ship personnel, and after a long delay, he was examined by the ship’s doctor. He was sent to a hospital in Bermuda and then was airlifted to New York. Unfortunately, he had bleeding in his brain and died a week later.

The man’s family sued Royal Caribbean for medical malpractice. The case has lingered in the courts until recently when a three judge panel of the 11th Circuit federal court ruled that the cruise line exemption should no longer apply. The court looked at the issues of both the cruise line’s access to high-quality medical care as well as whether or not the doctors and nurses were employees or independent contractors.

The court noted that in promotional materials for the cruise, the medical center was described in glowing terms. Many ships have intensive care units, labs, and they can link up with medical experts on the shore using video conferences. Technology has changed a great deal in recent years, which allows cruise lines to deliver much better medical services than ever before. The court found that there was no reason to give cruise ships an across-the-board exemption for acts of medical negligence.

In addition, the court found that the doctors and nurses may not be referred to as independent contractors. They wear cruise line uniforms and are presented as employees of the ship. A business cannot legally hire someone to perform work, present them as employees, and then claim when they are sued that the workers are independent contractors.

This court ruling opens the door to medical malpractice lawsuits against cruise lines for faulty services performed by doctors and nurses on the ship. Although it’s likely that infirmaries onboard cruise ships may not be held to the same standards that a normal hospital or doctor’s office would be, they should not be allowed to provide shoddy care that harms the lives of passengers and then escape from all liability.

Cruise lines are notorious for trying to escape liability through various means.  However, if you have been harmed by a cruise line, you have legal rights. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that cruise lines should be held liable for any injuries caused by their negligence.

If you have been harmed by a cruise line, call Micha Star Liberty, San Francisco personal injury attorney. She works with clients in San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward, Fairfield, Tracy, San Jose, Berkeley, and the surrounding cities. Call her today at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000 to learn more.

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