A recent court ruling will provide greater protections for passengers on cruise ships who are injured or suffer illnesses on board. On November 10, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found in Franza v. Royal Caribbean that passengers have the right to sue cruise lines for malpractice based on the actions of physicians and other medical professionals employed by these companies. For those who have been injured or have received substandard care on board a cruise ship, this ruling offers new hope for achieving a fair settlement. Consulting an experienced Houston personal injury attorney can provide the support these individuals and families need throughout negotiations and in the courtroom setting. Overturning Precedent The new decision overturns the precedent set by Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, better known as the Barbetta rule, which provided immunity to cruise ship lines on the premise that passengers could not and should not expect an equivalent level of medical care and expertise on board as would be available on land. In recent years, however, many cruise ships have touted the abilities of their on-board medical staff as a selling point for their vacation packages. Modern medical advances have also increased the potential quality of care available on these vessels. These factors undoubtedly played a role in the ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. For passengers who have experienced an injury at sea, the decision will open new avenues for pursuing compensation in the legal arena. The Case in Question Franza v. Royal Caribbean involved an injury to an elderly passenger on board the Explorer of the Seas, a cruise ship owned and operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. Pasquale Vaglio sustained an injury to his head while the ship was docked in Bermuda and was evaluated by the ship's nurse in the on-board medical center. The nurse failed to perform diagnostic scans and provided only minimal treatment; the on-board ship's doctor did not meet with Vaglio until almost four hours had elapsed since his injury. Due to this lack of ordinary medical care, Vaglio's serious injury went undiagnosed and he died approximately a week after the incident. Vaglio's daughter, Patricia Franza, sued Royal Caribbean in the Southern District of Florida; however, due to the Barbetta precedent, her case was dismissed. She then pursued her case to the Eleventh Court of Appeals. Far-Reaching Implications Injuries like the one that claimed Pasquale Vaglio's life are only part of the problem for cruise ship passengers. Outbreaks of illnesses have plagued cruise ship lines in recent years:
- In February 2014, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas was also implicated in an outbreak of gastroenteritis that affected more than 650 people.
- Holland America's Veendam cruise ship was cited for numerous sanitation violations after 114 passengers and 10 crew members were treated for gastrointestinal distress during a Caribbean cruise.
- The Crown Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, experienced an outbreak of norovirus in November 2014 that infected at least 158 passengers and 14 members of the crew.
The new ruling opens the door for passengers to sue cruise lines for failing to protect them against the spread of diseases on board ships. This may open new avenues for those injured or infected on these ocean-going vessels. For those who have been injured or who have contracted illnesses while traveling on board a cruise ship, the decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will provide added help in acquiring fair compensation for their losses. Families of those lost to illness or injury on board cruise ships should consult with a qualified Houston wrongful death lawyer to ensure that cruise lines are held accountable for their negligence. By pursuing their cases both in and out of court, victims of these incidents can make a positive impact on the quality of care available in the cruise ship environment.