For decades, passengers who have been injured on cruise ships–like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity or Norwegian–and received negligent medical care from the ship’s doctors have had a difficult if not impossible time holding the cruise lines accountable for the doctors’ errors.  Thankfully, this week a United States Appellate Court has issued an opinion that will make it far easier for passengers injured on cruise ships to sue cruise lines for medical malpractice.

The case involved an elderly cruise ship passenger who fell and bashed his head while on a cruise on RCCL’s Explorer of the Seas, which was docked at port in Bermuda. The passenger, Pasquale Vaglio, was wheeled back onto the ship, where he sought treatment in the ship’s medical center. The treatment was so negligent that he fell into a coma and died a week later.

According to the court’s records, the ship’s health care providers failed to diagnose his cranial trauma by not conducting any diagnostic scans.  The ship’s doctor did not even examine Mr. Vaglio for nearly four hours.

Mr. Vaglio’s daughter, Patricia Franza, sued Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (“Royal Caribbean”) for vicarious liability for the purported negligence of two of its employees, the ship’s doctor and its nurse, under one of two theories: actual agency (also termed respondeat superior) or apparent agency.

She filed her lawsuit against Royal Caribbean in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 and the general maritime law, but District Court judge Hon. Judge Joan A. Lenard dismissed her complaint on June 14, 2013 by applying the longstanding Barbetta Rule, from the case of Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, which has long provided legal immunity to ship owners like RCCL when a crew member renders negligent medical care to its passengers.

In a very well reasoned 63-page opinion written by Judge Marcus, the court examined application of maritime law to complex legal theories of medical malpractice, personal injury, and employment law.  The court found that maritime law supports holding

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., vicariously liable for the medical negligence of its onboard nurse and doctor in the death of Ms. Franza’s father.  To read the court’s opinion, click here.

As a cruise ship passenger injury attorney, I applaud the 11th Circuit’s opinion and hope that it will send a strong message to the cruise ship industry that they can no longer hide behind outdated legal doctrines that serve to protect their profits at the expense of injured passengers. This opinion should encourage companies like Carnival and RCCL to provide injured passengers a higher standard of medical care.

If you have been injured on a cruise, we recommend that you contact an experienced and aggressive maritime attorney.  Since 1991, Spencer Aronfeld has fought hard to protect the legal rights of the injured.  If you have a question regarding a potential cruise ship personal injury case, call us to for a free initial consultation at 1-866-597-4529, or email us at