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Court holds cruise line accountable in medical malpractice case

Going on a holiday cruise in the tropics to avoid winter weather probably sounds like a good idea to many Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, despite their amenities, cruise ships have presented many cases of medical negligence in recent years. Although most cruise ships have doctors, nurses and care centers that look out for the needs of passengers, some are prone to medical mistakes. Until recently, cruise ships were immune to medical malpractice lawsuits, but a recent U.S. appellate court ruling may have changed that.

In mid-November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed court rulings dating back decades that said cruise ships could not be held liable for medical care rendered on the high seas. The judges thus overturned a lower court's dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The original legal action was filed by the daughter of a man who died after he was allegedly given negligent medical treatment by the ship's medical facility after falling overboard while his ship was docked in Bermuda. The treatment allegedly led to the man's death.

The daughter then filed a legal action against the cruise ship and the medical staff. The district court judge dismissed the lawsuit citing existing maritime laws. The appellate court, however, said maritime laws along with medical malpractice law, personal injury law and agency law made the cruise line liable.

The decision thus holds that cruise lines can be found liable if they fail to provide adequate and appropriate medical care for their passengers when it is needed. Any Pennsylvanian who suffers negligent medical care while on board a cruise ship - or surviving family members - can thus consider legal action if a cruise injures them through medical malpractice.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Suing Cruise Ship Doctors for Medical Malpractice," Spencer Aronfield, Nov. 25, 2014

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