11/25/2014 02:46 pm ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

Suing Cruise Ship Doctors for Medical Malpractice

Modern mega cruise ships now have urgent care centers on board that are staffed with doctors and nurses who can treat passengers suffering from a wide range of illnesses and injuries ranging from sea sickness, broken bones, and in some instances, even life threatening medical conditions.

However, holding cruise ship doctors and nurses accountable for medical mistakes has been nearly impossible for injured passengers because for decades cruise lines have been insulated from legal liability when passengers receive inadequate or negligent medical care from the ship's doctors and nurses. This week a United States Appellate Court has made it far easier for injured passengers to sue cruise lines for medical malpractice in a ruling that involves an elderly cruise ship passenger who fell during a cruise-- while docked in Bermuda.

After falling, the passenger, Pasquale Vaglio, returned to the ship and sought medical treatment in the ship's hospital. Unfortunately, the care was allegedly so negligent that he fell into a coma and died a week later. His daughter filed a wrongful death case against RCCL and alleged that the ship's health care providers failed to timely diagnose Mr. Vaglio's cranial trauma.

She filed the lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, located in Miami, Florida. The trial judge, the Hon. Joan A. Lenard dismissed her complaint by applying the longstanding maritime legal concept that provides immunity to cruise lines like RCCL when a crew member renders negligent medical care to passengers.

In a 63-page opinion appellate court Judge Marcus juxtaposed maritime law with legal theories of medical malpractice, personal injury, and agency law. The court found that maritime law supports holding Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., as vicariously liable for the medical negligence of its on board nurses and doctors. To read the Court's opinion, click here. This law sends a clear message to the cruise industry by holding it responsible to provide injured passengers a higher standard of medical care.