Royal Caribbean's Effort to Overrule Decision Making Cruise Lines Liable for Medical Malpractice Thwarted
We reported last November that the Federal Eleventh Circuit issued a landmark opinion called Franza v. Royal Caribbean. This ruling found cruise lines can be held vicariously liable for the medical malpractice of their ship board doctors. Prior to the Franza decision, trial courts would routinely dismiss passenger claims brought against cruise lines for doctors' malfeasance finding they are independent contractors. Being that most cruise ship doctors are from foreign countries, it was very difficult to obtain jurisdiction over their tortious acts in the United States. This caused devastating results for passengers who suffered at the hands of substandard doctors and for the families of loved ones who died because the cruise ship doctors provided poor care. Many truly hurt people were forced to go without just compensation as they were not allowed to sue the cruise lines for medical malpractice or unable to obtain jurisdiction over culpable foreign doctors. Franza changed this.
The Eleventh Circuit's opinion rejected the Fifth Circuit's 1988 Barbetta opinion which found cruise lines could not be sued for medical malpractice as they had no legal duty to provide their passengers with medical services of contracting doctors. The Eleventh Circuit, on the other hand, commented that there is a long history of precedent within maritime law that holds ship operators liable for the bad acts of their agents. The Eleventh Circuit then commented that given the cruise line charges for the doctors' services, have them ware uniforms and can terminate their services, a jury should make the factual determination of whether those doctors are no independent contractors.