Court Allows Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Against Cruise Lines


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Passengers who suffer medical malpractice while on a cruise can now sue the cruise line for such negligence, reversing a decades-old maritime law that had provided immunity to the industry.

The change came about by a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in a case involving an elderly man who died while on a Royal Caribbean Bermuda Cruise.

The passenger, Pasquale Vaglio, died after he sought medical treatment of a head injury in the ship's hospital. The suit alleged the treatment was so negligent that he fell into a coma and died a week later.

The case was initially dismissed, based on precedent in maritime law known as the "Barbetta doctrine." That doctrine dates to 1988 and provides immunity to cruise lines in medical malpractice cases even when the health care staff provides negligent care. Under that doctrine, medical malpractice lawsuits are allowed against the personnel, but not the cruise line, which made many cases impractical to pursue.

However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed that decision recently and allowed the medical malpractice case to go forward.

In the ruling, the court found that "much has changed in the quarter-century since Barbetta."

"As we see it, the evolution of legal norms, the rise of a complex cruise industry, and the progression of modern technology have erased whatever utility the Barbetta rule once may have had," the court wrote.

The decision is expected to have widespread implications on future medical malpractice lawsuits involving the cruise industry.

If you or a loved one suffered injuries as a result of negligent medical care on a cruise ship, please contact one of the experienced cruise ship lawyers at Ross Feller Casey for a free initial case review.

You may be entitled to substantial compensation from a medical malpractice lawsuit, but your time to file such a claim may be limited.

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