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Falling ill while on a cruise is terrible enough, but receiving poor quality care by incompetent or uncaring medical staff can make a bad situation worse. The "Barbetta rule", however, made it extremely difficult for victims of medical malpractice by doctors and nurses employed by cruise lines to recover compensation for damages. A recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has made it easier to bring lawsuits, though. Here's what you need to know about this recent development.
The Barbetta Rule
Until November 2014, cruise ships enjoyed immunity to medical malpractice lawsuits due to something called the Barbetta rule. This was the result of a 1988 case involving a married couple (Barbetta) who sued the cruise ship SS Bermuda Star for damages resulting from the on-board medical staff's failure to diagnose the wife's diabetes. The wife subsequently fell into a coma.
In this case, the court ruled the cruise line could not be held liable for the actions of its medical staff and that victims of medical malpractice had to sue the practitioners directly to recover compensation for damages. The problem with this ruling is that many of the medical professionals who worked aboard cruise ships were from other countries, which made filing and winning personal injury lawsuits against them challenging logistically and legally.
Vicarious liability laws--which allow people to sue companies for acts committed by people in their employ--require plaintiffs to prove the company had some control of the offenders' conduct (e.g. regulating how they performed their duties). One of the reasons the courts sided with the cruise line in the Barbetta case was because medical facilities were fairly limited, if available at all, on cruise ships. Medical care was often provided by people who didn't have formal training or contracted out to third parties who weren't formally employed by the company.
However, times have changed since the Barbetta case, and cruise lines today typically have facilities staffed with licensed medical professionals that offer a variety of healthcare services. The relationships between healthcare providers and companies have also changed, and doctors are more likely to be in the direct employ of cruise lines.
These changes led the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal to discard the Barbetta rule and allow a plaintiff to pursue a medical malpractice claim against a cruise line. In Franza vs. Royal Caribbean, the daughter of a deceased cruise passenger claims the on-board medical staff failed to properly diagnose her father's condition and delayed treatment until it became too late to save his life. The woman's case was dismissed in the lower court due to the judge's reliance on the Barbetta rule. However, the appeals' court judge determined that the underlying reasons the rule existed in the first place were no longer relevant to how medical care is provided on cruise ships today.
Pursing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
The ruling is important because it now allows people harmed by medical practitioners aboard cruise ships to obtain compensation for damages and losses. People whose cases were dismissed previously because of the Barbetta rule may be able to use the appeals' court judgment to have the dismissal vacated and bring new lawsuits against the cruise lines.
Be aware, though, states limit the amount of time you have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. For example, you must file a lawsuit within 2 years after the date of the incident in Michigan (you can find out what the statute of limitations is in your state by visiting this website.); otherwise, you lose the legal right to bring a case against the offender. So you need to act quickly to protect your rights to compensation for your injuries.
For more information about or help with a medical malpractice lawsuit, contact an attorney with experience and knowledge about this area of law. You can also click here to read more about medical malpractice suits.