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Cruise ship company liable for on-board doctor malpractice

Malpractice on Cruise Ships

Federal appeals court declines to adopt “Barbetta rule” and holds that a cruise ship may be vicariously liable for the negligence of ship medical staff under the actual or apparent agency theory.

In the News

Recently a cruise ship passenger fell and hit his head in Bermuda while his ship was at the port there. The passenger sought medical treatment on board the ship and died several days later, allegedly due to negligence by the ship’s medical staff. The personal representative of the passenger’s estate sued the cruise line for the staff’s alleged malpractice under the respondeat superior doctrine, bringing counts for the actual and apparent agency.

cruise ship malpractice

by JamesZ_Flickr

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed the complaint, following the longstanding rule in Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star*. That standing immunizes all ship owners from respondeat superior liability for negligent medical care provided by ship employees to passengers. The trial court also held that the plaintiff had failed to adequately plead the apparent agency counts.

From the Courts

As a matter of the first impression, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Barbetta rule and reversed. Holding that the plaintiff had adequately stated a cause of action against the cruise line for vicarious liability for the ship’s medical staff under theories of both actual and apparent agency. By a lengthy analysis, the Eleventh Circuit examined and discarded the historical justifications for immunizing ship owners from vicarious liability for ship medical staff, concluding that whatever reasons may have existed in the past are no longer valid in regard to modern-day cruise ships.

In a matter of the first impression, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Barbetta rule and reversed, holding that the plaintiff had adequately stated a cause of action against the cruise line for vicarious liability for the ship’s medical staff under theories of both actual and apparent agency. Through a lengthy analysis, the Eleventh Circuit examined and discarded the historical justifications for immunizing ship owners from vicarious liability for ship medical staff. They concluded that whatever reasons may have existed in the past are no longer valid in regard to modern-day cruise ships. Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 772 F.3d 1225 (11th Cir. 2014).

In Other Words

What this means for future patients and those who have an accident while taking a cruise, is that they have an additional layer of protection if the cruise ship physician or medical staff fail to properly treat their injury. While we hope you don’t ever have to reach out to us because you’ve been harmed while enjoying a cruise that originated or ended in Florida, we would be happy to hear from you if you do.

We are easy to talk to and specialize in medical malpractice cases. We welcome your inquiries. Please contact us through our online form, call us at 800.974.4929, or email info@mcmillenlawfirm.com and we will follow up with you soon.

*848 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir. 1988)

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