Are Cruise Lines Accountable for the Actions of Doctors Onboard?

Posted on November 26, 2014 by Shapiro Law Group

Striking down the precedents set by the 1988 decision of Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has opened up the possibility of suing a cruise line for medical malpractice committed by doctors aboard their ships.  The “Barbetta rule,” as it came to be known, was created in a time when ships were much less likely to have extensive medical facilities and practitioners onboard, leading ship owners to argue that they could not be held liable for medical tragedies which occurred at sea.

Times have changed greatly, and the massive advancements in technology we’ve made since the outdated Barbetta rule was created have resulted in a much higher standard of medical care, including aboard cruise ships.  The 11th Circuit Court saw this and acted accordingly.


The case that brought this to the 11th Circuit’s attention involved the death of Pasquale F. Vaglio, a vacationing passenger aboard the Explorer of the Seas, a cruise ship owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD. While ashore in Bermuda, Vaglio took a savage dive and injured his head, and for treatment was brought back onboard the Explorer by Royal Caribbean employees in lieu of visiting a hospital on land.  A nurse’s brief and slipshod assessment, during which no scans or tests were run, found him to be fine, and he was released back onto the ship.

An hour and a half passed, and Vaglio found himself once more in the ship’s medical center; it took another 90 minutes before the nurse accepted his credit card information. The doctor ordered a transfer to an onshore hospital, but by the time he arrived there, it was too late. He later passed away from his injuries.

Vaglio is not the only victim of medical malpractice aboard a ship, and certainly will not be the last. But with the archaic Barbetta rule struck down, there is more hope for cases like his.

Shapiro Law GroupMedical Malpractice Attorneys Serving the Tampa Bay Area



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