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Are Cruise Lines Liable for Medical Malpractice?

cruise shipCruise ships are meant for fun and travel. However, passengers on cruise ships are just as prone to getting injured as they are on land. Regardless of what caused the accident, today’s cruise ship passengers expect competent medical care from the onboard doctors and nurses. A cruise line company may be liable for cruise ship medical malpractice if their healthcare professionals provide substandard care to passengers.

The History of Why Cruise Lines Could Not Held Responsible for Medical Malpractice

For more than a century, passengers could not sue a cruise line for medical malpractice while on board a ship or oceangoing vessel. Courts nationwide held that shipping companies and cruise lines could not be held liable for the medical negligence of their doctors on board.

The reason behind this was that most ships and boats did not have sufficient space, crew or equipment to provide for a fully equipped medical facility. As such, courts held that the cruise ship passengers could not expect the same level of medical care on a ship that they could on land. The healthcare professionals onboard a ship were viewed as independent contractors, rather than employees. Thus, the cruise lines could not be held responsible for their actions.

Filing Medical Malpractice Against a Cruise Ship Doctor

In 2014, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the line of thinking that cruise ships could not be held liable for medical malpractice. In a case called Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD., the court overturned the outdated rule and noted that many modern cruise ships have sufficient luxury amenities for passengers, as well as state-of-the-art medical facilities and medical care units.

The court further held that there was no reason why cruise lines should be shielded from medical practice claims resulting from sub-standard medical care onboard. However, in order to bring a successful cruise ship medical malpractice claim, the injured person must be able to prove that the doctor or nurse was acting as a ship employee and not as an independent contractor.

Below are the factors the Franza court listed to outline when a cruise line can be held liable for its doctors’ negligent actions:

  • The cruise line advertised its medical center or medical staff to passengers;
  • The cruise line retained the right to hire and fire medical staff;
  • The medical staff is required to wear the ship’s uniform and sail under the ship’s officers;
  • The doctors, nurses or other staff are paid by the cruise line directly;
  • The cruise line stocks the hospital or medical center with all supplies, equipment, and medicine; or
  • The cruise line directly bills the passengers’ shipboard charge card for any medical services provided.

Call Us Today!

If you or a family member were further injured by medical negligence while sailing on a cruise line or were injured and the onboard doctor or nurse refused to help, you may be entitled to damages.

The legal team at Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. has been successfully pursuing cruise line medical malpractice claims on behalf of residents in New York and from other parts of the world. For more information or to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our attorneys, please call Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. at 1-800-529-9997.


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Jeff Korek

Jeff S. Korek

Senior Trial Partner​

Jeff S. Korek joined Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. in 1992 as the Senior Trial partner. Known for his meticulous preparation and dedication to his clients, Jeff has obtained some of the state’s highest verdicts and settlements.