Court of Appeals Refuses to Reconsider Cruise Ship Case
On January 23, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to reconsider a previous ruling, opening the door to medical malpractice lawsuits against the cruise ship industry. The decision has the potential to reverse nearly 100 years of maritime law that gave cruise ship companies immunity against lawsuits for medical malpractice. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines had asked the court to reconsider an earlier decision.
The case stems from the death of Pasquale Vaglio, a retired police officer and Korean War veteran from New York. In 2001, Vaglio left a Florida port on the Royal Caribbean’s "Explorer of the Seas." While getting off the ship in Bermuda, Vaglio slipped and fell and hit his head. He was taken to the ship’s medical facility. A nurse examined Vaglio and said nothing was wrong. She told him to return to his cabin. A few hours later, Vaglio’s condition worsened. He could hardly walk and his daughter requested a wheelchair for the room. It took the ship’s personnel over 20 minutes to bring the wheelchair, and Vaglio was taken to the infirmary. He was finally examined by one of the ship’s doctors over four hours after the accident, who sent him to a hospital Bermuda.
Vaglio never recovered from the accident. He had suffered a significant brain injury and later died in the Bermuda hospital.
His family decided to file a lawsuit, despite case law that protected Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Cruise ship companies hire independent doctors that are not employees of the company. Historically, the court has ruled that cruise ship companies are not liable for medical malpractice damages because the medical staff were not employees.
However, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that cruise ship doctors are in-fact part of the cruise ship company. In the ruling, the judicial panel wrote: "We can discern no sound reason in law to carve out a special exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence."
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines says it will consider all legal options after the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to review the decision. It could appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.
James O. Cunningham
Since 1977, personal injury lawyer James Cunningham has provided effective legal advocacy to people who are injured through the negligent actions of another person or entity throughout the Central Florida area. He fights to obtain recoveries for his clients’ physical and emotional pain and suffering and pursues his clients’ personal injury cases with a commitment to excellence and impeccable preparation.