On July 12, 2018, at roughly 7PM EST, a cruise ship passenger aboard Anthem of the Seas — a Royal Caribbean vessel — experienced a sudden medical emergency and was medevaced to shore to receive care. According to reports, the passenger (a 48-year-old woman) began to seize uncontrollably when the vessel was just 18 miles southeast of Ambrose Sea Buoy, off the coast of New York.
Crewmembers aboard Anthem of the Seas quickly reported the incident to Coast Guard watchstanders at Station Sandy Hook, and watchstanders sought the assistance of a flight surgeon, who recommended that a rescue crew be launched to medevac the ailing passenger from the vessel and to better-equipped shore facilities.
Though details are sparse, reports indicate that the rescue crew used a 47-foot motor lifeboat to perform the medical evacuation. The seizing passenger was safely transferred to the motor lifeboat (with the cruise ship nurse alongside her), and was then transported back to shore at Sandy Hook, where she was brought under the care of Emergency Medical Services personnel at a higher-level facility.
At this time, there is no additional information regarding the passenger’s condition.
We are encouraged by the emergency response efforts in the present case. Based on the available reports, it appears that both crew and Coast Guard authorities effectively coordinated to identify the problem, evaluate the need for a medevac, and execute the evacuation. We are further pleased to hear that the cruise ship nurse accompanied the passenger aboard the motor lifeboat, to ensure continuity of care and to keep emergency personnel informed of any concerns or medical details that could influence handling of the passenger.
Given the severity of the medical emergency in the present case — a seizure — the consequences of a delayed or otherwise poorly-executed medevac might have been disastrous for the passenger. For example, had the crew delayed in requesting the assistance of Coast Guard authorities, the passenger may have suffered serious, even fatal injuries before having reached a higher-level medical facility. Under such circumstances, the passenger (and their family) would likely have actionable claims against the cruise line.
Emergency Response Must Be Effectively Coordinated to Ensure a Swift Medical Evacuation
The need for medical evacuations happens much more often than one would think. In fact, the incident aboard the Anthem of the Seas is the third medical evacuation within the last two weeks. As such it is extremely important that cruise lines handle these situations in an appropriate manner.
Unfortunately, the interests of cruise lines and their passengers can be fundamentally misaligned at various times. When a medical emergency occurs on-board a cruise ship, the cruise ship operator is not always “exclusively” concerned with the health of the passenger. Instead, the operator is likely weighed down by concerns relating to the profitability of the cruise, and whether the seriousness of the medical emergency at-issue warrants a medevac response that could stall the trip or otherwise interfere with normal scheduling. Other times shipboard medical personal may fail to recognize the seriousness of the situation and the need for an evacuation or may simply misdiagnose the condition.
Though there are basic healthcare facilities on-board cruise ships, the cruise ship medical personnel do not have access to the tools, medicines, or specialized training required for the treatment of complex emergencies, such as a full-body seizure. When crewmembers identify that a serious medical event has occurred, it is their responsibility to timely contact authorities such as the Coast Guard watchstanders — to coordinate a swift and safe evacuation to a proper facility that can handle the medical crisis.
As we have seen, failure to coordinate a medevac (when necessary) can lead to injuries, or even death, and may expose the cruise line to significant liability.
Even if a medevac has been swiftly coordinated with the relevant authorities, cruise lines must still exercise reasonable caution to ensure the safety of ailing passengers. In the present case, the cruise ship nurse accompanied the seizing passenger aboard the motor lifeboat. This is important to help ensure the continuity of care.
We Can Help
Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our maritime lawyers have over a century of combined experience representing clients who suffer injuries or other losses in cruise ship accidents, including medical evacuation scenarios. We are focused primarily on maritime and admiralty claims, and as such, are more than capable of handling the unique complications typical of such litigation. Whether it is an evacuation to the closest port or a helicopter evacuation, we are experienced in working with both the cruise lines and the USCG to effectuate medical disembarkations. Our comprehensive, client-centered approach to cruise ship accident litigation has earned us many successes over the years — we have an extensive track record of obtaining favorable verdicts and settlements on behalf of our injured clients.
Despite the fact that our office is located in Florida, our attorneys have successfully represented clients in courtrooms both nationwide and worldwide. Cruise lines (and related emergency authorities) are responsible for your safety, no matter where you are located at the time of the accident — even if the specifics of the law may differ.
If you have sustained injuries in a medical emergency while aboard a cruise ship, then we encourage you to contact us today for further guidance.