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Florida-based Cruise Ships Lose Big in Federal Court

Under the 1988 Barbetta ruling, passengers who are injured on cruise ships are unable to expect the same degree of medical care on a ship that they would typically receive on land. Furthermore, Barbetta also holds that a cruise ship’s medical professionals should be considered private contractors, and thus are beyond the control of cruise lines. For 100 years, and even before the Barbetta ruling, malpractice suits against Carnival, Royal Caribbean and other cruise ships have been thrown out even before trial. However, this December a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over many Florida-based cruise lines, made the unprecedented decision to overturn Barbetta as an outdated law.

The Vaglio Family Suit Against Royal Caribbean

The case on appeal revolved around the death of retired police officer Pasquale Vaglio, who in 2001 was injured while on board a Royal Caribbean cruise. Vaglio hit his head after falling on the ship shortly after it disembarked on its trip to Bermuda. After falling, Vaglio was immediately seen by the ship’s medical professionals. The medical nurse decided that the Vaglio should rest in his room after conducting a cursory examination. However, what was unknown at the time was that Vaglio had suffered a serious brain injury that led to his death a few days later. According to the lawsuit filed by Vaglio’s family, though the nurse noted that he had a scrape and bump on his head, she did not recommend or conduct a diagnostic scan; instead, she simply told Vaglio’s wife that she should keep an eye on her husband because he could potentially have a concussion. However, Vaglios health continued to worsen, and four hours later Vaglio had begun to suffer from internal bleeding of the skull. Vaglio was finally examined by the doctor of the ship and was sent to a hospital in Bermuda. A week later Vaglio died because, as the appeals judges wrote, “By that time, Vaglio’s life was beyond saving.”

By doing away with the Barbetta rule, the 11th Circuit is simply giving Vaglio’s family a chance to present their claim in court that the ship staff was negligent. Under Barbetta, they would have been unable to do so because cruises ships have been able to rely on Barbetta to have malpractice suits thrown out of court. When deciding in favor of the Vaglio family, the 11th Circuit judges noted that the ship’s medical staff were presented as ship employees, wore cruise line uniforms and that the onboard medical center was detailed in the cruise ship’s promotion material. The court also noted that many modern cruise ships contain laboratories, high-tech intensive care units and the capabilities to conduct live video chats with onshore medical experts. Because they found that these ship’s are capable of providing comparable services as on land medical professionals, the Barbetta rule was deemed to be outdated and did not apply.

The battle is not over for the Vaglios. Though they were successful in the 11th Circuit Florida appeals court, the Vaglios will still have to convince a Miami jury that they deserve damages for Royal Caribbean’s negligence. Contact Miami appeals attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. for legal representation in appeals cases or any other defense issues. We will fight aggressively on your behalf.

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