US Court of Appeals Rules that Cruise Ship Owners May Be Sued By its Passengers for Medical Malpractice

In what appears to be a change in 100 years of law, the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines can be successfully sued for medical malpractice by passengers who have been negligently injured or killed by the ship medical providers.

The federal appeals court refused to reconsider the decision that essentially opens the doors for cruise ship passengers to sue cruise lines for medical malpractice.

In a hearing that was held in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, Ga., the appeals court rejected a bid by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to revisit its ruling. The court noted that none of the 11th circuit judges voted in support of reconsideration.

According to the report, this ruling reversed 100 years of court precedent that effectively protected cruise companies from being sued for medical malpractice for acts or omissions in medical care of passengers aboard ships.

The case involved an 82-year-old man who was on a cruise with 18 of his family members when he fell and hit his head shortly after disembarking for a sightseeing trip to Bermuda. After the man’s fall, he was taken to the ship’s medical unit where a nurse did a cursory examination and told the passenger to return to his cabin. What the passenger didn’t recognize and a doctor wouldn’t discover until hours later, was that the passenger suffered a serious brain injury that would result in his death just days later.

For more than 100 years passengers on cruise ships could not win a medical malpractice case because of exemptions created through a series of court decisions. The most recent case was in 1988 when the ruling known as “Barbetta” was relied upon by cruise companies such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival. In that case, medical malpractice suits brought against them were thrown out. Courts had said over the years that passengers should not expect to receive the same level of medical care on a ship as they would on land.

Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over the major Florida-based cruise lines, recently decided that Barbetta is outdated law. The medical negligence death case involving Royal Caribbean and the death of the 82-year-old male passenger will now be progressing through litigation.

The case is pending in Miami before the U.S. District Court there. Royal Caribbean, the defendant in the case, believes the ruling is unfair and points out that there are conflicts in other U.S. courts around the country, which may lead this case to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the supposed conflicts in the districts. That remains to be seen. For now, there is no absolute ban on bringing medical malpractice cases against cruise lines for its negligence in handling the medical needs of its passengers.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice cases, birth injury cases, wrongful death cases and hospital negligence cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Kenilworth, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Waukegan, Elgin, Palos Hills, Palatine, Morton Grove, Chicago (Wicker Park, Logan Square, Lincoln Square, Irving Park, Jefferson Park), Naperville, New Lenox and Hinsdale, Ill.

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