Medical Staff on Cruise Ships Could Now Face Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a ruling that now makes it possible for cruise line medical staff to be named as defendants in medical malpractice suits.

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The death of retired New York City policeman, Pasquale Vaglio, was the catalyst that brought this particular issue to the civil court system.

Vaglio was 82 years old when he decided to take a cruise and do some sightseeing in Bermuda. Shortly after the ship, Royal Caribbean’s “Explorer of the Seas,” set sail, Vaglio had an accident that resulted in him striking his head. He sought out the ship’s nurse who did a quick examination during which she made note of both a scrape and a bump on his head. She than proceeded to send him to his cabin with orders to rest.

She should have made arrangements to run a diagnostic scan. It turned out that this was terrible advice. Unbeknownst to the nurse, Vaglio’s injury was actually a concussion, a condition that would quickly result in his death.

Until now, it would have been impossible for Vaglio’s family to win a medical malpractice lawsuit against the ship’s medical staff despite their misdiagnosis which resulted in a wrongful death because of exemptions, often referred to as Barbetta, created in earlier court cases, some of which happened over one hundred years ago.

Whenever the issues of medical malpractice was raised, cruise ship lines have always maintained that passengers can’t reasonably expect to receive the same type of medical treatment while on the cruise that they’d receive at home. The other issue is that the way the cruise ship lines manage their medical staff means that their medical team aren’t employees but actually private contractors and therefore not under the direct control of the cruise ship.


The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has now made a ruling that means the old Barbetta exemptions are no longer valid and that the medical staff on the ship can be held accountable fr their actions.

Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus explained the rationale behind the decision. “We can discern no sound reason in law to carve out a special exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence. Much has changed in the quarter-century since Barbetta.”

Pasquale Vaglio’s family feels the court made the right decision.

20740758-large (1)“What we didn’t realize until this happened was that they have zero liability,” Pasquale’s son, Joseph Vaglio, a New York pharmacist, said. “There is no way they should be getting away with this. They are making money hand over fist. Part of their cost of doing business should be to have a competent medical staff.”

Joe and Martin managing partner of The Law Firm with an office headquartered in South Carolina feels the Court of Appeal made the right decision. “It’s ludicrous that medical professionals shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions and mistakes. They’re trained professionals. If they can’t do their job correctly even when they’re in a large, fully stocked ship than they probably should reconsider their career choices.”

When a doctor makes a mistake in diagnosis or treatment, it raises a number of concerns, first and foremost being the well-being of the patient and the impact of the error on his or her condition. Eventually, the incident may raise a different sort of red flag.

If one of your loved ones suffered a wrongful death as the result of a medical mistake, contact us and learn more about the legal options available to you.



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