Ruling strips cruise lines of immunity for medical negligence

Until recently, victims of medical negligence that occurred on cruise ships were unable to seek compensation due to a series of court decisions that protected the cruise lines from liability. The most recent of these decisions, the Barbetta ruling of 1988, said that passengers cannot expect the same standard of medical facilities on board a cruise ship as on land and that doctors and other medical staff on the cruise liners were independent contractors over whom the cruise company had no direct control.

However, a federal appeals court recently overruled the Barbetta ruling, calling it outdated.

The recent ruling stems from a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the family of a retired New York City police officer who died in 2011 after falling while on a cruise. The victim fell and hurt his head while onshore in Bermuda. He was taken back to the ship, where the ship’s nurse examined him and allegedly recommended only that he rest. His condition rapidly declined, but he did not see a doctor until several hours after the accident. He was rushed to a hospital in Bermuda but died a few days later from a serious brain injury.

The federal appeals court noted that the complaint alleged the cruise line advertised its medical facilities prominently in its publicity material. Moreover, the doctors and nurses on the ship allegedly wore the uniforms of the cruise line and were identified as cruise line employees.

The family of the deceased victim still has to convince the jury that it was the on-board medical staff’s negligence which led to the incident and that they deserve compensation for the incident. Chicago residents who believe they are victims of medical negligence, whether on a ship or at a Chicago area hospital, may want to consult a Chicago medical malpractice attorney to learn about their rights.

Source:, “Ruling opens door for cruise malpractice lawsuits,” Curt Anderson, Dec. 23, 2014