No Love (for the Sick) Boats

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

More than 40 medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed against Florida cruise ship companies over the last decade, but nearly all have floundered in court or been dismissed, the WSJ’s Stephanie Chen reports.

In the suits, passengers claim they were hurt as a result of poor medical care or that ship doctors made injuries worse. But the companies haven’t been found liable because on-board care givers are independent contractors; and malpractice cases involving treatment outside the U.S. boundaries generally must be filed in the courts of the physician’s country of origin.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in a medical injury lawsuit that had been in various courts for nearly a decade. In the case, a teenage girl’s abdominal pains were misdiagnosed as the flu during a trip on Carnival Cruise Lines’ Ecstasy. Doctors at an emergency room later found that her appendix ruptured, an injury that rendered her sterile. Carnival said the physician wasn’t its employee and that the company bore no responsibility.

Many of the physicians on the ships are foreign born and filing a lawsuit in their home country can be complex and expensive. Further, when a malpractice case crops up the doctors usually disappear and the cruise companies don’t offer much help in locating them, Chen reports.
The Italian doctor who treated the girl with the ruptured appendix was initially named as a defendant in her suit but later dropped because nobody, even a private eye, could locate him. Carnival declined to comment to WSJ.

The legal situation “leaves the passenger who goes on a cruise and gets bad medical care with virtually no remedy,” says Jason Margulies, a maritime lawyer.