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Last time, we discussed how the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reached a decision that could stand to reverse the longstanding legal precedent of not allowing passengers to bring medical malpractice lawsuits against cruise lines.
The case in question involves a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against Royal Caribbean by the family members of an 82-year-old man who died from a serious head injury sustained while disembarking for a Bermuda shore excursion back in 2001.
According to court documents, the man received a perfunctory examination from a ship nurse that didn’t include any sort of diagnostic tests and which concluded with the vague advice to watch out for signs of a potential concussion.
Unfortunately, the man’s condition steadily worsened and after a considerable delay, he was examined by the ship doctor who had him transferred to a hospital in Bermuda where he was diagnosed with bleeding in his skull.
He was later transported to a New York hospital where he ultimately died from the injuries sustained.
In reversing the decision of a lower court to throw the family’s case against Royal Caribbean out, the panel essentially held that the precedent set forth in Barbetta should no longer be considered good law.
In reaching this determination, the court pointed out how both the doctor and nurse retained by Royal Caribbean wore company uniforms and worked in facilities that were specifically highlighted in the company’s promotional literature.
Furthermore, the court highlighted how many of today’s cruise ships are now outfitted with state of the art medical centers complete with ICUs, labs and even video conferencing capabilities.
“We can discern no sound reason in law to carve out a special exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence,” reads the decision. “Much has changed in the quarter-century since Barbetta.”
For their part, Royal Caribbean has argued that it is in the business of providing trips, not medical care, and that the panel provided insufficient reasoning to depart from legal precedent dating back 100 years. It is now seeking a review before the entire 11th Circuit.
It will certainly be fascinating to follow the progress of this case, which could conceivably end up before the Supreme Court of the United States, and grant passengers the right to seek justice for any injuries and losses sustained on account of medical malpractice aboard cruise ships.
Stay tuned for updates …
Source: USA Today, “Ruling opens door for cruise malpractice lawsuits,” Curt Anderson, Dec. 23, 2014