For the last century, cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been virtually immune to medical malpractice lawsuits due to a succession of rulings allowing for special considerations that would never hold throughout hospitals on land. Most recently, a ruling in the 1980s known as “Barbetta” helped to release cruises from responsibility when a vacationer falls ill while aboard their ship and does not receive proper care.
The controversial ruling has been the root of countless medical malpractice claims that did not end in recoveries for victims. Vacationers argue that just like any hospital on land, a hospital aboard a cruise ship should be held to reasonable health and safety standards on par with current national standards of care.
However, as history has shown us, this is unfortunately not always the case. Much of the medical staff aboard cruise ships consist of private, independent contractors rather than direct employees of the cruise line itself. This is part of the reason that cruise lines argue they should not be held responsible for their medical staffs’ actions or lack thereof during a health emergency.
New York resident Pasquale Vaglio sustained a fall during a cruise with his family in 2011. The ship’s medical staff did not properly diagnose and treat his head injury, eventually resulting in his tragic death. When Pasquale’s family tried to file suit against the cruise line, they were met with an antiquated series of rulings threatening their potential for justice.
With Pasquale’s family going for an appeal, federal judges have taken notice and decided that “Barbetta” and its predecessors are no longer relevant. The judges have pointed out that the cruise lines of today are far more advanced than cruises were during the 1980s when “Barbetta” was put into effect. Nowadays, some cruises are built with critical care units and labs that allow for diagnostic testing, placing standard and even enhanced medical care within the realm of possibilities. Fortunately for victims of preventable medical errors aboard cruise ships, federal judges are recognizing this transition and placing justice within reach for victims like Vaglio and his family.