By:   Jason R. Margulies

medical-emergency-on-cruise-shipAt Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A., we know that cruise ships can be much more dangerous than the cruise lines want you to think. Not only do onboard activities and shore excursions present the opportunity for accidents and injuries, but in some cases, the very people who are supposed to help you may instead cause you harm. Despite the promise of quality medical care by cruise lines, cruise ship doctors are very often not licensed in the United States and lack the training and experience necessary to deal with many serious medical emergencies on board.  We have handled many cases where cruise ship doctors and nurses commit medical malpractice that harms a patient or causes further harm to an existing injury.

Common Injuries That Lead To Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice

Cruise ship passengers who become ill or injured often have little choice but to rely on the doctors and nurses provided by the medical facility onboard the ship. If your ship is in the middle of the ocean, far from land, getting to a land-based doctor or emergency room is not a viable option. Therefore, passengers expect and need cruise ships to provide properly trained and qualified medical staff on every cruise, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. Cruise ship medical staff may commit medical malpractice in a number of ways.

  • Discouraging or refusing to provide treatment
  • Improper medical treatment
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to provide proper and prompt medical care
  • Failure to properly monitor patient conditions

The Nations Leading Cruise Ship Law Firm’s Experience With International Medical Negligence Cases

Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. has decades of experience in bringing cases against cruise lines. In 2003, we were successful in winning a landmark case in front of the Third District Court of Appeals in Florida, obtaining a ruling that allowed our clients to proceed with a case to sue Carnival Cruise Lines for medical malpractice committed by onboard medical staff. In this case, a 14-year-old girl traveling on a Carnival Cruise ship with her family was suffering from appendicitis, but the ship’s physician insisted that she did not have appendicitis and was instead only sick with the flu. The family ended up leaving the cruise early to get their daughter medical attention, and it was discovered that she had suffered a ruptured appendix and a subsequent infection that gave her permanent damage.  Since then Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. have handled hundreds of cases involving negligent shipboard medical care.

LM&W has brought multiple cases against Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess, and Holland America for medical malpractice on behalf of passengers who had suffered serious medical events such as strokes, heart attacks, respiratory distress, and infections onboard cruise ships and had been misdiagnosed and improperly treated by the ship’s medical staff, thereby suffering further injury or death. We brought a case on behalf of a man who slipped and fell in his cabin’s shower, was brought to the onboard medical facility, and was diagnosed as having a sprained neck rather than his actual injury of multiple spinal fractures and subdural hematomas, which were left untreated for the remainder of the cruise resulting in serious complications for the passenger.


Who Is Liable In A Medical Malpractice Case Aboard A Cruise Ship

As long as medical staff onboard a cruise ship are acting as employees of the cruise line rather than as independent contractors, the cruise line can be held liable for medical malpractice committed by their staff. Some factors that can help towards proving that a cruise ship’s medical staff were acting as employees include:

  • The cruise line advertised its medical facilities and/or medical care to passengers.
  • The cruise line hired and fired the medical staff.
  • The medical staff was required to wear the ship’s uniform and report to the ship’s captain.
  • The ship’s doctor was an officer of the ship.
  • The medical staff is directly paid by the cruise line.
  • The cruise line takes responsibility for stocking and maintaining supplies, equipment, and medications in the medical facility.
  • The cruise line bills passengers for medical services provided onboard the ship.

In addition, cruise ship passengers who fall victim to medical malpractice may be able to sue the cruise line on the basis that the cruise line hired (or retained) an unqualified person to be on staff. Technically, it may also be possible to file a lawsuit against a ship’s medical staff member directly. The problem often encountered is that most ship’s doctors and nurses are citizens of foreign countries over which the United States Courts lack personal jurisdiction.  However, the cruise lines often indemnify (provide a contractual agreement requiring them to pay for the negligence of) shipboard doctors and nurses. The lawyers at LM&W have successfully handled these complex issues of jurisdiction and indemnification involving the ship’s doctors and nurses to obtain compensation for passengers who have suffered medical malpractice onboard. 

Can You File A Medical Malpractice Claim Against a Cruise Ship Doctor?

For many years, the prevailing legal opinion was that passengers on board sailing vessels could not reasonably expect to have access to equivalent medical care that they might expect onshore. In 2014, however, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that modern cruise ships should no longer be protected from medical malpractice claims, as long as the cruise line exercised elements of control over the medical care onboard – this includes the equipment (or lack of equipment) onboard, the vetting of ship’s doctors and nurses, and the establishment of policies and procedures controlling medical care decisions onboard.

Contact A Legal Team You Can Trust

Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. is America’s leading maritime law firm. LM&W attorneys have more than 100 years of combined experience and a record of success, with over $300 million recovered for clients in more than 3,000 cases. LM&W was named “Lawyer of the Year” in Admiralty and Maritime 2020 (Miami) by US News & World Report, and three of our attorneys were also named to “Best Lawyers.” in America.  Our attorneys are trusted by leading news networks for their legal expertise on matters relating to cruise ship law, with more than 100 appearances on nationally broadcasted television programs.

LM&W was founded 50 years ago to fight for the rights of victims, and we still passionately believe in this mission. If you have been the victim of medical malpractice on a cruise ship, you need a team of experienced lawyers to help you fight against the cruise line’s team of high-powered and highly-paid attorneys. Let us put our decades of cruise ship industry experience to work for you. Call us today for a free consultation at 877-233-1238.