Who Can Be Held Responsible For Medical Malpractic...

Cruise ships provide people with an opportunity to sail to exotic locations and momentarily forget about the humdrum of the city. Gone are the days when these sea vessels were a picture of affluence and glamor. Cruise ships of today are teeming with a wide range of activities to keep guests entertained enroute to their destinations.

According to the website of Louis A. Vucci PA, to ensure the safety of their passengers, cruise ships are required to have medical personnel on board. Cruise ships have care centers manned by doctors and nurses who can treat passengers suffering from a variety of illnesses such as sea sickness, broken bones, and life threatening medical conditions. The bad news is that holding them liable for medical malpractice is unlikely for passengers.

Pasquale Vaglio was a retired New York City policeman and a veteran of the Korean War. He was going on a dream cruise in the summer of 2001 aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Sea. However, an accident happened that eventually led to his death. The 82-year old Vaglio fell and hit his head after disembarking for a sightseeing trip in Bermuda. He was taken to the medical unit where a nurse checked up on him and told him to rest in his cabin. What the nurse did not know was that Vaglio suffered a brain injury that led to his death a week later.

Vaglio’s case was just one of the medical malpractice lawsuits that was thrown out of the window due to exemptions created from previous court rulings. The previous Barbetta decision stated that “When a carrier undertakes to employ a doctor for its passengers’ convenience, the carrier has a duty to employ one who is competent and duly qualified. If the ship breaches its duty, it is liable for its own negligence. If the doctor showed negligence in treating passengers, however, the responsibility will not fall on the carrier.”

Back in those days, medical malpractice lawsuits are unlikely to win due to the fact that cruise ships only hire medical personnel as independent contractors. This was the reasoning of previous cases which exempts cruise lines from any liability to injuries of passengers. In the case of Vaglio, a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Appeals overturned the previous decision on his case dismissing the complaint citing the longstanding maritime concept that gives immunity to cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean from any negligence cases.

The new ruling noted that the doctors and nurses who attended to Vaglio wore cruise line uniforms and were presented as ship employees and that the medical center was described glowingly in promotional materials. Aside from that, modern cruise ships have sophisticated ICUs, laboratories, and could do live video conferences with medical experts while on the sea.

If the decision stands, veteran Miami maritime lawyer Robert Peltz claimed that the key to victory in a medical malpractice on cruise ships case is to prove that the medical personnel were employees of the ship and not independent contractors.