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.
This change in the law sent a shock wave through much of the cruise industry as all passenger claims against Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, NCL, Oceana and Silversea must be filed the Federal Southern District of Florida. The judges which make up the Southern District of Florida are obligated to follow the Eleventh Circuit legal rulings. Shortly after Franza was handed down, the trial courts began reversing their prior orders which dismissed medical malpractice claims against cruise lines.
The cruise industry will potentially lose millions of dollars if they are required to compensate their passengers for ship doctors’ negligence. As such, Royal Caribbean has asked the Eleventh Circuit to revisit the issue by asking for the three judge panel to reconsider its opinion as well as asking the entire Eleventh Circuit made up of eleven active judges to review the decision. Last week the Eleventh Circuit denied both of Royal Caribbean’s requests. It is expected that the cruise line will ask the Supreme Court to review the case.
Florida Board Certified Appellate Attorney Philip Parrish of Parrish Appeals handed the appeal for the Franza estate.
If you suffered due to improper medical care during a cruise and would like to learn more about your rights, feel free to contact our team of Florida Board Certified Admiralty and Maritime attorneys.