Malpractice Aboard a Cruise
Historically speaking, cruise lines have been exempt from medical malpractice lawsuits based on prior court decisions and rulings. The latest ruling was in 1988 and is known as the Barbetta rule. The Barbetta ruling states that passengers on cruise ships should not expect the same level of medical care on a ship as on land, and ships’ doctors and nurses are private contractors beyond the cruise lines’ direct control.
Because of this ruling medical malpractice lawsuits while on a cruise ship were dismissed and thrown out before they ever came to trial. But the family of Pasquale Vaglio challenged the ruling after he fell and hit his head while disembarking the ship for a sightseeing excursion while onboard Royal Caribbean’s “Explorer of the Seas” in the summer of 2011.
Mr. Vaglio was taken to the ship’s medical station and a nurse performed a quick examination and told him he should rest in his cabin without realizing he had suffered a brain injury that would kill him within days.
During the appeal, judges noted that the Royal Caribbean’s promotional materials boasted sophisticated intensive care units and high-tech video conferences with medical experts on shore. In his decision, Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, said Barbetta is an outdated law and there’s no longer any reason to carve out an exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence since much has changed in a quarter-century.
Pasquale’s son said, “We didn’t realize until this happened that they have zero liability. There is no way they should be getting away with this. They are making money hand over fist. Part of their cost of doing business should be to have a competent medical staff.”
Lawyers for Royal Caribbean stated, “While cruise ships may have improved their medical facilities in the last 100 years, they should not be punished for it. Royal Caribbean is not in the business of providing health care. It is in the business of providing vacations.”
Royal Caribbean believes the law was fair as it stood and to compare cruise ships to an onshore medical center with numerous specialists and access to lab work and test equipment is unfair. Their lawyers wrote, “Cruise ships are not floating hospitals.”
This new ruling gives the Vaglio family a chance to prove their claims to a Miami jury that the “Explorer of the Seas” medical staff was negligent and that they deserve damages. Joseph Vaglio said money isn’t the only motivation. “They were getting away with this for a long time and it’s time for it to stop. My dad was the nicest guy in the world. When he left early it was kind of weird. It took a lot of years away from me.”
If the family wins this appeal, it could affect the cruise ship industry and the 21 million people who take cruises annually.
Read the full transcript of Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida – PATRICIA FRANZA VS ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES, LTD.