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Can I Sue a Cruise Ship Doctor for Medical Malpractice?


Modern cruise ships function like miniature maritime cities, so it’s only natural to expect competent health care while onboard. For years, however, cruise ships could not be held liable for medical malpractice. This was due to an important legal precedent called “the Barbetta rule.”

Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star

In 1988, the Barbetta family sued a cruise line after a doctor on board failed to recognize Ms. Barbetta’s diabetes while treating her, and thus exacerbated her condition. In its defense, the cruise company claimed its doctor was an independent contractor. The courts upheld this distinction via the doctrine of respondeat superior and S/S Bermuda Star evaded liability.

For years, this precedent dismissed many other maritime medical malpractice cases and became known as the infamous Barbetta rule.

Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.

In 2011, an 82-year-old man and his family took a cruise in Bermuda. Shortly after the ship embarked, the man fell and hit his head. He was treated by the ship’s medical unit and told to rest in his cabin. Within 3 days, the man had succumbed to a fatal brain injury.

The man’s surviving daughter, Ms. Franza, filed a wrongful death suit against the cruise line. When her complaint was dismissed using the Barbetta rule, she appealed. By 2014, her case reached the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a three-judge panel decided the Barbetta rule was an outdated law. With the advances in the maritime medical industry, the court found no reason to uphold cruise ship indemnity, stating:

We can discern no sound reason in law to carve out a special exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence. Much has changed in the quarter-century since Barbetta.

So, Can I Sue a Cruise Ship Doctor for Medical Malpractice?

Yes. With the precedent set by Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., you can sue the cruise line and its employees for medical malpractice.

If you received negligent medical care while on board a cruise ship, contact David C. Rash, P.A. today. Our team has over 25 years of experience and focuses exclusively on medical malpractice and maritime claims.

To take the first step towards recovery, call (954) 914-7116 and request a free consultation ASAP.

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