Bringing a Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Cruise ship medical malpractice lawsuits can potentially be brought against two categories of defendants: the shipboard medical staff, consisting of doctors and nurses, and the cruise line. Suing each category of a defendant brings its own challenge to a plaintiff’s case. Cruise ship medical staff are often times residents of foreign countries. This presents a jurisdictional hurdle when bringing a direct medical malpractice claim against cruise ship medical staff. In order for a court to have jurisdiction to hear a medical malpractice claim against a ship’s doctor, the doctor must reside or have committed the malpractice within the state where the court sits. This jurisdictional hurdle many times cannot be cleared as the shipboard medical staff resides outside the United States, and the malpractice was committed on the high seas. However, this issue must be examined as we have found that sometimes the doctor does reside in the United States or the malpractice occurred in the territorial waters of a particular state.
There is no jurisdictional hurdle for bringing a medical malpractice claim against a United States based cruise line. The major United States based cruise lines contain a clause within the ticket selecting the court where the suit against them must be brought.
Bringing a medical malpractice claim against a cruise line is what is known as a vicarious liability claim, as the shipboard medical staff who committed the malpractice are many times not direct employees of the cruise lines.
For many years passengers did not have a claim against cruise lines for the medical malpractice of shipboard medical staff. This changed in 2014 with the case of Franza v. Royal Caribbean, wherein the Eleventh Circuit, for the first time, determined that maritime law allows for a passenger to bring a vicarious liability claim against a cruise line for shipboard medical malpractice. However, since this is a vicarious liability claim, it must be proven that the shipboard doctor or nurse was either a direct or apparent agent of the cruise line.
Aside from bringing a vicarious liability claim, a passenger who was the victim of cruise ship medical malpractice may bring a claim against the cruise line for negligent selection and retention of the ship’s doctor and nurses.
In these cases, it must be proved that the shipboard doctor was not qualified when hired or performed in a substandard manner before the subject medical malpractice, so much so that a reasonable company would have terminated the contract.