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Medical Malpractice on Cruise Ships

by | Mar 2022

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According to news out of the cruise industry, 2022 is shaping up to be a record-setting” year. This is great news as the industry took a huge hit in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taking a cruise offers the ultimate vacation experience with a comprehensive experience aboard a massive ship. Not only do you have access to food, activities, and excursions, there’s also a complete medical staff on board to provide medical services as needed.

Any time medical services are provided, there’s also the potential of medical malpractice. Keep reading to learn more about medical malpractice on cruise ships and when you may have a case.

The History of Cruise Ships and Medical Malpractice Cases

For over 100 years, passengers on cruise ships didn’t have the right to sue cruise lines for medical malpractice that occurred while they were on board. That’s because courts across the country stated that cruise lines and shipping companies were not liable for any negligence of the medical staff they had on board.

This is because most boats and ships didn’t have adequate space, equipment, or staff to provide a fully equipped medical facility. Because of this, the court stated that passengers could not expect to receive a high level of care while on a ship that they would receive on land.

Also, at this time, medical professionals who were on board a cruise were seen as independent contractors, not employees. Because of this, the cruise lines were not considered responsible for what happened.

The Current State of Medical Malpractice Claims in the Cruise Industry

The above was overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014. At this point, in a case called Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTC, the court overturned this outdated rule and stated that most of the modern cruise ships in operation offer passengers luxury amenities and state-of-the-art medical care.

The court also stated that there was no reason for cruise lines to be protected from medical malpractice claims that resulted from sub-par medical care for passengers while they were on board.

While this is now the law, certain criteria must be met for someone to file a successful cruise ship medical malpractice claim. For example, the injured party must prove that the nurse or doctor acted as an employee of the ship rather than an independent contractor.

Medical Malpractice on Cruise Ships

Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Cases Defined

Suppose a passenger requires medical attention while on a cruise. In that case, they may experience a medical malpractice situation if the medical professional breaches their duty of patient care or engages in negligence. This commonly occurs if the passenger experiences an injury caused by the doctor or if the medication or treatment isn’t what the person needs.

In some situations, the treatment may prove to be detrimental or, in some cases, fatal to the passenger in these situations. While this is true, you must gather and retain any evidence related to the case or situation if you plan to pursue a medical malpractice claim.

Understanding the Four Elements of Negligence in Medical Malpractice Cases

When someone is impacted by medical malpractice, the passenger must prove four elements to pursue a negligence claim.

  • 1. The duty of care owed to the passenger as a patient who was under the care of a healthcare professional.
  • 2. The duty of care was breached because the doctor failed to perform their job properly.
  • 3. Injures occurred.
  • 4. Proof that the cause of the injuries was a direct result of the healthcare professional’s breach of duty.

The court evaluates these four elements to determine if a doctor is liable for medical malpractice to a patient on a cruise ship that experienced some type of medical harm or condition while on board.

Holding a Doctor on a Cruise Ship Responsible for Medical Malpractice

In some situations, it’s not possible to hold the cruise ship responsible for the medical staff’s actions if the doctor is charged with medical malpractice. For example, it may not be possible if the doctor is an independent contractor and doesn’t have any feasible tiles to the cruise company, such as employment.

If it is impossible to connect the situation to the cruise company, the passenger/patient must use their evidence to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. Usually, this requires following the four elements of negligence and hiring a Florida medical negligence attorney to help with the case.

Filing Your Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

If the cruise ship you were on at the time of the medical situation was equipped with a state-of-the-art medical facility, it might be possible to file the suit against both the doctor and the cruise line. This is one way to make sure the cruise line company is accountable for the actions of the doctor who was hired as an employee.

If the doctor provides subpar care, the cruise company may also be liable for damages if a passenger is injured or does not receive the needed care from medical staff. However, it will require that you prove the doctor or another healthcare provider was working as an employee of the company when treatment was received.

Factors Related to the Involvement of a Cruise Ship

To make sure that a cruise company has some part in offering compensation for your injuries or malpractice claim, it is required that you prove that certain things existed. One is the advertisement that the cruise line offered medical services for passengers. Another element is that the cruise line has the right to hire and fire the medical staff they have on board.

Usually, the staff working in the medical center will have to wear the ship’s uniform or be employed as a ship’s officer. Also, the medical staff will also have to receive payment from the cruise ship company directly. Another element that must be proven is that the cruise line needs to stock all the medical equipment or bill passengers for the services required from the healthcare staff directly.

Potential Parties Liable in a Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Case

As mentioned above, if the medical staff on a ship is acting as an employee of the cruise line instead of working as independent contractors, then the cruise line can be considered liable for any cases of medical malpractice committed by the staff. Some of the steps that prove the cruise ship’s health care providers were working as employees include:

  • Advertisements posted by the cruise line about the onboard medical facilities or medical care for passengers.
  • Medical staff that is hired and/or fired by the cruise line.
  • Medical staff that is required to wear the uniform of the cruise line and report to the captain of the ship.
  • A doctor who is also a ship officer.
  • If the medical staff receives pay from the cruise line directly.
  • The cruise line has the responsibility of maintaining medications, equipment, and supplies and stocking all items in the onboard medical facility.
  • The cruise line sends bills to passengers for any medical services that are provided while onboard the ship.

Also, if a cruise ship passenger is a victim of medical malpractice, they may have the right to sue the cruise line because the cruise line hired unqualified staff members. Sometimes, it’s possible to file a separate lawsuit against the medical staff member responsible directly.

Common Ways Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Occurs

When a cruise ship passenger falls ill or gets injured, the only choice they may have is to rely on the healthcare staff at the medical facility on the ship. After all, if you are on a cruise, in the middle of the ocean and far away from land, reaching a land-based doctor may not be possible.

Today, passengers need and expect cruise ships to provide qualified and trained medical staff on each cruise. Unfortunately, this isn’t always what happens. Medical staff on a cruise ship may engage in medical malpractice in several ways.

Some of the most common ways that cases of medical malpractice occur on a cruise ship include:

  • Failure to monitor a patient’s ongoing medical condition
  • Refusing or discouraging treatment for a passenger
  • Failure to provide prompt and proper medical care services
  • Improper medical treatment
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Misdiagnosis

Injuries and Situations That May Result in the Need for Cruise Ship Medical Care Services

Most people who go on a cruise won’t require the need for medical services. However, those who do need this medical service may wind up facing a long and difficult road related to medical malpractice. Some of the top reasons that a vacationer may need to go to the doctor on board a cruise ship include:

Slip and Fall Accidents

One of the most common injuries that occur on any cruise ship is a slip and fall accident. With such large surfaces open to the rain and nearby large bodies of water, including hot tubs and pools, it’s not too hard to see why floors are often wet and slippery.

Also, drinks are often served in the eating areas, and even the dance floors can remain unkempt, causing a passenger to fall and suffer extreme injuries.

Recreational Accidents

There are more than a few things that you can do on a cruise ship. You can go swimming in the many pools and participate in all types of activities. While these are supposed to be fun and enjoyable, they may also cause serious injuries if you aren’t careful and safe.


Today, cruise ships are larger organizations, and because of this, they have to protect passengers from harm. This includes both sexual and physical assault. It doesn’t matter if it happens with a member of the staff or another passenger, if a passenger is subjected to any type of assault, they have the right to file a lawsuit.

Food Poisoning

A huge selling point for most cruise ships is the amazing food options they provide. Some cruises provide passengers with the option of unlimited drinks and food. When this is provided, it is the cruise line’s responsibility to make sure the food is stored properly and that when it is served, it is safe to eat. If the cruise line fails for this duty, the onboard passengers may experience food poisoning or other serious illnesses.

One of the most difficult parts of being injured or becoming ill on a cruise ship or dealing with a negligent healthcare professional or doctor is the many different legal hoops you may have to jump through. The fact is that maritime law is a complicated topic and different from other laws. It also varies based on what part of the ocean you are in when the injury occurs. You also have to deal with the fact that most large cruise lines have a large team of expensive lawyers to defend their cases and help make claims disappear.

Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Against a Cruise Ship

It’s possible to file a cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuit against two entities. One is the medical staff that provided care, and the other is the cruise line. To sue each defendant, there are certain challenges you must understand.

For example, in many cases, the medical staff on a cruise ship are foreign country residents. Because of this, there is a jurisdictional hurdle that must be overcome to file a medical malpractice claim against the medical staff on the cruise ship. For a court to have any jurisdiction to hear the medical malpractice claim against the doctor on the ship, the doctor must have committed the malpractice or reside in the state where the court is located.

In some situations, the jurisdictional hurdle can’t be cleared because the medical staff on the ship live outside the U.S., and the case of malpractice occurred while on the water. However, it’s important to have the situation investigated since there are some instances where the doctor lives in the U.S. or when the malpractice situation took place in the waters of a set state, such as Florida.

When it comes to a U.S.-based cruise line, there are no jurisdictional hurdles for filing a medical malpractice claim. All the main U.S.-based cruise lines include a clause in the ticket selecting the court where a suit against them must be brought. Filing a medical malpractice claim against one of these cruise lines is called a vicarious liability claim. That’s because the medical staff on the ship were the ones who committed the medical malpractice, and, in many cases, they are not direct employees of the cruise line.

Hire an Experienced Florida Medical Malpractice Attorney for Help with Your Case

Florida is considered the cruise capital of the world. In most cases, cruise lines require that if you are going to file a lawsuit, it is filed in the Sunshine State. The high volume of cruise lines and subsequent lawsuits have provided our maritime attorneys with vast experience handling cruise ship medical malpractice cases. This experience allows us to find the key issues in these situations and start discovering information to support our client’s claims. We will then work to ensure that each client we represent receives fair compensation for the injuries and damages they experienced due to the negligence of the cruise ship doctors’ medical malpractice.

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Case

It’s important to remember that not all Florida attorneys with experience handling medical malpractice cases will be able to handle this type of situation. Medical malpractice cases that involve cruise ships are more complex in most cases. Because of this, it is smart to find an attorney with experience representing these types of cases specifically.

Finding a qualified injury attorney will help you have the best chance of a successful outcome. While there is no guarantee with these cases, and the burden of proof is high in any medical malpractice claim, it’s not impossible to ensure a successful case. An attorney will be able to gather the needed evidence and ensure you have a strong compensation claim. In most cases, a strong enough claim will result in a fair settlement from the at-fault party without having to go to court.

The attorney you hire can also provide more information about how likely your case is to be successful. This type of legal representation will pay off in the long run and minimize the risks that your case is unsuccessful. Being informed and hiring the right lawyer for your situation can take time and effort, but most who have been in the situation claim the attorney will make the entire process easier and less stressful. Also, there are no upfront fees that you must pay the attorney; instead, they will receive a percentage of the compensation you are awarded. Keep this in mind as you search for the right attorney for your case and your needs.

Being informed and ensuring you have proper representation for your case is a must in these situations. An attorney is an invaluable ally that will help ensure you get the compensation deserved. While there are no guarantees, you are more likely to receive a fair amount of compensation with an attorney.

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