Cruise Lines Held Liable to Passenger for the Negligence of Ship’s Doctor, Even Though Doctor is an Independent Contractor

Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Landmark Cases

CARLISLE vs. CARNIVAL CORPORATION 2003 Fla. App. LEXIS 12794 (Fla. App. 3rd 2003)

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant parents appealed from the entry of summary judgment by the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County (Florida), in favor of appellee cruise line, in the parents’ suit seeking to hold the cruise line vicariously liable for the negligence of a ship’s doctor in his treatment of their daughter.

OVERVIEW: The parents argued that the cruise line was vicariously liable for the doctor’s negligence under agency and apparent agency law. The appellate court held that the cruise line had control over the doctor’s medical services for agency law purposes. The doctor was to provide medical services to passengers and crew in accordance with the cruise line’s guidelines. As it was foreseeable that some passengers at sea would develop medical problems and that the only realistic alternative for such a passenger was treatment by the ship’s doctor, the cruise line had an element of control over the doctor-patient relationship. The holding of the Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, 848 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir.1988), line of cases was rejected. The cruise line’s duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances extended to the actions of a ship’s doctor placed on board by the cruise line. For purposes of fulfilling the cruise line’s duty to exercise reasonable care, the ship’s doctor was an agent of the cruise line whose negligence was imputed to the cruise line. 46 U.S.C.S. app. § 183c invalidated the cruise ticket’s purported limitation of the cruise line’s liability for the negligence of its agents.

OUTCOME: The summary judgment was reversed on the issue of vicarious liability, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.