It is no secret that cruise lines are for-profit businesses. Companies such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL, Celebrity, Disney and Princess constantly look for ways to add revenue and limit costs in order to increase their bottom lines. Some areas where cruise lines make money from their passengers are obvious. Casinos, bars, ticket sales for excursions are all well-known profit centers. One location aboard the ships where cruise lines make money that is less obvious to those who are not industry insiders are the ships’ medical facilities.
Cruise lines dedicate space aboard their ships for medical facilities. They stock those facilities with drugs, bandages, x-ray machines and hire doctors to treat ill or injured passengers. Passengers who use these medical services are charged on their shipboard accounts and must pay those charges before leaving the ships. What is not known by many is that if the ship doctors are negligent in their care, cruise lines disavow liability. In essence, the cruise lines found a loophole in the law to make money but not be assessed with liability should their doctors commit medical malpractice. This loophole is found in the 1988 case of Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star decided by the Fifth Federal Circuit wherein it was determined that since cruise lines have no obligation to provide onboard doctors for their passengers they should not be liable for the negligence of those doctors.
Our firm receives several calls each month were passengers tell us that the ships’ doctors misdiagnosed and mistreated their injuries which cause greater medical problems. These passengers are shocked when we tell them the law holds cruise lines not responsible for the medical negligence of the ship’s doctors.
The legal toehold allowing cruise lines to make money from their medical facilities and escape liability for negligent medical care evaporated on November 10, 2014. The Eleventh Federal Circuit in Franza v. Royal Caribbean determined the old maritime law decided by Barbetta simply does not reflect modern reality. In an astounding 63 page opinion a three judge panel unanimity finally found cruise lines are now accountable for the negligence of the doctors they hire. In arriving at this conclusion the court undertook a review of recent cases throughout the nation which hold hospitals and medical centers liable for the doctors who practice there. Given that cruise ships have evolved into floating cities and make money from their medical facilities, there is no legal reason to give cruise lines preferential treatment.
The Franza case provides passengers legal rights that they never possessed before. If you or a loved one was injured by the medical negligence of a cruise ship’s doctor within the past year and would like to learn how this case impacts your rights, feel free to contact our Board Certified maritime lawyers.