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Mike Damaso
Mike Damaso
Attorney • (800) 235-7060

Cruise Companies Not Liable for Ship Doctors

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There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal October 24, 2007, titled “Trouble at Sea: Free Agent Doctors“. Essentially, the article points out that cruise companies are not being held responsible for negligent medical care aboard their ships. Although cruise ship doctors wear a crew member uniform, render medical care on the ship, and use equipment on the ship, cruise companies say they cannot be held responsible for the negligent conduct of the ship doctor because the doctor is not an employee of the cruise line. Cruise companies argue that they are no more liable for the acts or omissions of ship doctors than a landlord who rents office space to a physician on land. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. says it cannot be held liable because the doctor is not an employee and the actions of their agents, employees, and crew.

The article reports multiple incidents where there has been negligent medical and the cruise lines have been able to escape responsibility. In one incident, a lady was seen by Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas ship doctor after she slipped and hit her head on a buffet table knocking her unconscious. The ship doctor gave her over the counter pain medication and sent her on her way. The doctor never did any kind of scan or x-ray of her head even though she continued to have pain over the following several days. When this passenger returned home, she went to an emergency room, a neurologist discovered a blood clot and because of the concern of a potential stroke, performed invasive brain surgery.

This article reports that this is one of approximately 40 medical malpractice lawsuits against Florida cruise lines over the past decade; and, that nearly ALL of those lawsuits have either been dismissed or struggled in the court system because of a legal ruling going back to 1823 – shipowners are responsible for the medical care provided to crew members, but not passengers.

The article points out that the ship doctors (who are not employees) are generally from foreign nations. Many of these passengers injured as a result of the negligence of cruise ship doctors have a difficulty time finding these doctors when a claim against them is initiated.

Isn’t this the standard practice of the cruise lines anyway … on any claim against them? These companies are incorporated in places like Liberia. Try getting corporate documents from Africa. The vessels are bought and sold and moved around between parent companies and subsidiaries. The crew members are mostly foreign and extremely transient, They move between vessels within fleets and within cruise line. They switch between different cruise lines and companies.

This article brings attention to one of the many ways cruises lines attempt to shield themselves from taking responsibility for their actions.