In the past, cruise lines could not be sued for medical malpractice. One of their major arguments was that doctors were independent contractors from the cruise line. Thus, following the ruling in a 1988 case, they were not employees of cruise ships. Therefore, people could not sue a line such as Royal Caribbean or Norwegian for medical malpractice should a doctor deviate from the normal standards of care onboard the ship within his or her medical profession. A recent case appealed by to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reverses this precedent according to a recent article in the Daily Report. It is also interesting to note that Miami, Florida is under the jurisdiction of the Eleventh Circuit and that is where many ships are registered, making the decision even stronger.

The case arose because an elderly man was to be transported from the ship to a Bermuda hospital because he was not doing well. Even though he was being transported by a wheelchair, a nurse let him go back to his cabin. Afterwards, he got off the boat by foot and fell. He hit his head and died one week later. Thus, the family of this man alleged that the infirmary nurse who let him go unsupervised to his cabin acted negligently. Under the 1988 decision, medical professionals were not necessarily “agents” of the cruise line.

Since 1988, cruise ships have changed. Cruise lines are paying their doctors and controlling some of their working conditions, including their uniform. Therefore, the court found that in this case, the medical staff of the boat was employees, not independent contractors. Because these doctors and nurses worked directly for the cruise line, if they committed medical malpractice, then their employer could be held responsible.

There are additional reasons cited by the judge writing the opinion of the case that cruise ships can be sued for medical malpractice. Now, many ships are like floating cities. While their main activity is not medical care, as at a hospital, the judge compared them to a university, whose main business is education. Universities have infirmaries and can be liable for medical malpractice. Therefore, the argument that boats are not hospitals is now weekened.

Finally, medical care has improved on cruise ships over the years. Technology, such as cellular and satellite communications, help ensure that doctors on board a ship can deliver the best care possible. In fact, healthcare is a money-maker for cruise lines, just as healthcare is a money-maker for hospitals. Many people are willing to go on cruises (hence, making the cruise lines money) because they will maintain access to quality care while at sea.

At the law office of Jayson Lutzky, P.C., we are committed to the rights of individuals who have been hurt at the hands of a doctor. We handle accident and medical malpractice cases. The lawyer, Jayson Lutzky, has over 31 years of legal experience in New York. He offers free in-person consultations and offers hospital or home visits in the case of a serious injury. Call 718-514-6619 to set up an appointment. Visit to learn more about medical malpractice.