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Court ruling may allow cruise malpractice lawsuits

New Mexico residents who are planning to vacation on a cruise ship might be interested to learn that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a previous law that barred cruise lines from being sued for medical malpractice should no longer apply. Up until recently, courts have interpreted the law to include an exception for cruise medical malpractice, generally holding the cruise lines do not hold liability in such cases.

The recent ruling, which would allow medical malpractice lawsuits against a cruise line to go forward, stands to potentially change the law. The decision came after hearing a case where a man died on a cruise line due to the medical staff's negligence. The cruise line, Royal Caribbean, had medical staff that was required to wear cruise liner uniforms and touted their medical facilities in advertisements. A man who was not properly diagnosed for more than four days following an accident on the cruise ship died as a result of the misdiagnosis, and the family filed suit.

The court reasoned that medical facilities on cruise ships have improved to an extent that there should no longer be an exception. The cruise line is appealing to the full court following the three-judge decision. If the court's decision is not overturned, proving that the cruise line has control over its medical staff as opposed to them being independent contractors may be an important factor for a successful lawsuit.

People who take cruises often do not consider the possibility of having an accident while on their cruise or of needing medical care as a result. When the provided care is inadequate, which could lead to serious long-term consequences, people had been previously prevented from seeking compensation under medical malpractice law. The 11th Circuit's ruling may provide change, allowing people to hold the cruise lines responsible for medical malpractice occurring on board.

Source: WBTW, "Ruling opens door for cruise malpractice lawsuits", Curt Anderson, December 23, 2014

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