A three-judge appellate panel has ruled that cruise lines should no longer be legally exempt from medical malpractice lawsuits. The decision comes from a 2011 case in which Pasquale Vaglio, an 82-year-old retired NYC policeman and Korean War veteran, fell and hit his head shortly after disembarking from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for a sightseeing trip in Bermuda. After being ushered into the ship’s medical unit, a nurse gave Vaglio a cursory examination and instructed him to rest in his cabin. Several hours passed before a doctor would make the determination that Vaglio had sustained a brain injury, an injury that would prove fatal within days.

Prior to this ruling , the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida had maintained that cruise passengers should not expect the same level of medical care on a ship as on land, adding that ships’ doctors and nurses were private contractors beyond cruise lines’ direct control. The ruling in Vaglio’s case overturns former legal precedence, noting specifically that the Royal Caribbean nurse and doctor wore cruise-line uniforms, were presented as ship employees, and that the onboard medical center was characterized glowingly in promotional materials. The judges also noted that some modern cruise ships house laboratories, sophisticated intensive care units, and possess the ability to establish live video conference links with medical experts ashore.

Judge Stanley Marcus wrote in the panel’s decision: “We can discern no sound reason in law to carve out a special exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence.” The Vaglio family’s legal victory potentially affects 21 million passengers who take cruises annually.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury or death due to a misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis, contact a medical malpractice attorney at Kline and Specter.