A recent United States Court of Appeals ruling has finally opened the door for passengers who receive medical help while on cruise ships to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, if they feel that the medical staff was negligent. Because of a quarter century old ruling, cruise lines were previously immune from any medical malpractice suits.

The reason that cruise lines were shielded from medical malpractice lawsuits, if their medical staff performed negligently when they treated passenger patients, was predominantly due to a 1988 ruling. The ruling stated that the only entity that a cruise passenger can sue for medical malpractice was the actual medical provider who treated the patient. This rendered cruise lines companies virtually unassailable.

The new ruling that changed the status quo came in the wake of the tragic death of an elderly passenger on a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship that was docked in the port of Bermuda. According to case documents, the elderly gentleman fell asleep at the dock and was carried onto the ship by ship personnel. While on the ship, he went to the designated medical center and requested medical assistance.

Specifically, the nurse that attended to the patient failed to diagnose the passenger’s cranial trauma, thereby not realizing that diagnostic scans needed to be conducted. She allegedly released the patient without administering or recommending any treatment whatsoever, which caused the patients eventual death.

His daughter filed a lawsuit that was initially dismissed under the previous ruling. Nonetheless, when she appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals decided to ignore the previous ruling. The court cited that she established a plausible claim against the Royal Caribbean cruise line, who were recognized as the employers of the negligent medical staff.

Source: Clinical Advisor, “Patients can now sue cruise lines for medical malpractice,” Amy Latner, Dec. 12, 2014