Cruise Lines Can Now be Held Vicariously Liable When the Negligence of the Ship’s Doctors, Nurses and Other Medical Staff, Causes Harm to Their Passengers

New Federal Appellate Court Decision Allows for Medical Malpractice Claims Against Cruise Lines 

In an opinion published Nov. 10, 2014 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, cruise lines can now be held vicariously liable when the negligence of the ship’s doctors, nurses and other medical staff, causes harm to their passengers.


For over 25 years, however, this was not the case as cruise lines and their owners were protected from medical malpractice claims by the prevailing law, referred to as the ‘Barbetta rule’ (Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star). 


Under the old law, cruise lines had broad immunity “no matter how clear the shipowner’s control over its medical staff or how egregious the claimed acts of negligence.”


Patricia Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Rejects Barbetta Rule 

Waks & Barnett, P.A. was retained by the family of Pasquale Vaglio, who suffered a head injury while the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Explorer of the Seas, was docked in Bermuda. He later died as a result of the injury.

In the complaint filed on behalf of the personal representative of Mr. Vaglio’s  estate, his daughter, Patricia Franza, Waks & Barnett, P.A. alleged that Mr. Vaglio’s death was caused by the negligent care and treatment he received in the ship’s infirmary.

The trial judge dismissed the complaint based upon the longstanding ‘Barbetta rule’, immunizing the cruise lines from liability to passengers for the negligence of its medical staff. An appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was filed. Appellate Counsel Philip Parrish was retained to handle all aspects of the appeal.


The opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejects the ‘Barbetta rule.’


The ongoing efforts of attorneys Andrew Waks and Joel Barnett, of the Miami-based cruise ship injury law firm Waks and Barnett, P.A., and Philip Parrish, were instrumental in obtaining this result, which represents a major victory for injured cruise line passengers.

Opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

A three-judge panel of the appellate court reinstated the claims against the cruise line in a unanimous ruling, rejecting Barbetta.

“Much has changed in the quarter-century since Barbetta,” said the decision. “As we see it, the evolution of legal norms, the rise of a complex cruise industry, and the progression of medical technology have erased whatever utility the Barbetta rule’ may once have had. 

We thus decline to adopt the Barbetta rule’, and find that the complaint in this case plausibly establishes a claim against Royal Caribbean,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.

Read the Entire Opinion of the Eleventh Circuit Court Here:

63 page opinion, from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals regarding Franza v. Royal Caribbean

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