All major cruise lines have doctors aboard their cruise ships. In fact, cruise lines turn a profit from charging passengers for doctor visits and dispensing needed medication. However, if a passenger suffers an injury or dies as a result of the medical malpractice of these ship doctors, the cruise lines are generally not liable.
Most passengers don’t know that despite wearing cruise line uniforms and name badges, ship board doctors are hired as independent contractors. This fact is often buried in the cruise boarding pass booklet. By hiring these doctors as independent contractors, cruise lines can shield themselves from liability should they commit medical malpractice.
Another secret the cruise lines like to keep from their passengers is the medical staff are often foreign and have never attended American medical schools! This further frustrates the rights of passengers who suffer as a result of medical malpractice because these doctors are generally not subject to the U.S. courts.
The law, however, does provide passengers some recourse. Although passengers cannot sue the cruise lines directly for the medical malpractice of the ship’s doctor, passengers can sue the cruise line for the negligent selection of the doctor. Under this theory of law, the passenger must show the cruise line should not have selected the doctor because the doctor was insufficiently trained or had a substandard performance history. If proven, the cruise line will be liable for the medical malpractice.
Passengers may also directly sue the doctor. Unfortunately, unless the passenger can show the medical malpractice occurred in a state’s territorial boundaries, the doctor cannot be sued in the U.S. However, the doctor may be sued in the country of residence under the laws of that country.