Before the December 2014 ruling by Judge Stanley Marcus in the eleventh circuit of the United States Court of Appeals, cruise lines had been virtually immune from medical malpractice lawsuits thanks to a 1988 decision in Barbetta v. Bermuda Star, holding that the only way a victim of medical negligence aboard a cruise line could sue for damages was to privately sue the medical provider who treated them. The cruise line itself was not considered liable. However, a recent ruling in the Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises case changed the way cruise ship malpractice victims can seek to recover damages.
In 2011, Pasquale Vaglio was an elderly passenger aboard the “Explorer of the Seas,” a Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship. The ship docked in Bermuda and as Vaglio was boarding a trolly from the deck, he slipped and hit his head. From there, a nurse aboard the ship allowed Vaglio to return to his cabin. Vaglio’s son and daughter-in-law, fearing that Vaglio’s condition was deteriorating, had him transported back to the cruise ship’s infirmary. A ship doctor examined Vaglio and ordered that he be transferred to a Bermuda Hospital but he did not arrive at the hospital until 6 hours after his first examination by the nurse. Patricia Franza, Vaglio’s daughter, claims that after this severe delay in treatment, it became too late to save her father’s life. Vaglio was airlifted to a New York Hospital the next day where he died a week later.
Franza’s claim was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard who applied the original “Barbetta Rule,” saying that the cruise line could not be held liable for the negligence of it’s medical staff because the nurse and doctor were in fact not agents of Royal Caribbean but instead were independent contractors.
Franza appealed her case to the eleventh circuit where Judge Stanley Marcus overruled Judge Lenard’s decision, noting that the Barbetta rule is outdated in an age of dwindling independent medical practices and rapidly emerging urgent care centers and corporate run medical facilities. He also likened cruise lines to universities, saying that universities are not immune from liability when patients are injured in school health clinics even though their primary business is not to provide medical treatment. In addition, Judge Marcus noted that immunity is preposterous considering the potential profits that can be made from offering onboard medical treatment, citing a survey that showed nearly 30% of cruise-goers to be over the age of 60. Lastly, Judge Marcus pointed to evidence in Franza’s complaint that painted a different picture than that of Royal Caribbean’s independent contractor defense, noting that medical personnel were paid directly from the cruise line and were provided mandatory uniforms by Royal Caribbean.
Judge Marcus’ ruling has opened a door for victims of medical negligence aboard cruise ships. For years, these victims could only hope to find justice by suing doctors directly and often, because cruise ships routinely hire foreign-domiciled and foreign-educated doctors, the process was too difficult and time consuming to see through. With the rejection of the out-of-date “Barbetta Doctrine,” cruise lines will rightly be held responsible for the actions of those they entrust with the lives of their passengers.
If you or a loved one have suffered the consequences of medical malpractice, be it on a cruise ship, in a hospital, or somewhere in between, contact the medical malpractice lawyers at Messa & Associates for a free case evaluation. Our experienced and skilled attorneys are armed with the necessary resources and knowledge to successfully argue your case.
Call 1-877-MessaLaw or submit an inquiry online. Let Messa & Associates earn you the compensation you deserve.
Joseph L. Messa, Jr. is the founding partner of Messa & Associates, P.C. He is an AV-rated attorney (highest rating available), listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Read More