Virginia: Medical Malpractice – a Lawyer’s Ship

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The February 2015 issue of Trial, the monthly magazine of the America Association of Justice (“AAJ”), highlights a significant new medical malpractice law development in “NEW DESTINATIONS FOR SHIPBOARD MALPRACTICE”. Id. at 38-44. “Medical malpractice claims against cruise lines recently gained new wind when the Eleventh Circuit took a fresh look at modern industry.”

The landmark pro-Plaintiff decision is Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 2014 WL 5802293 (11th Cir. Nov. 10, 2014). It rejected legal precedent dating to 1887 that had found no vicarious liability for cruise lines for their ships’ doctors and nurses. Id. at 38, 44.

“Because the Eleventh Circuit is home to most of North America’s cruise industry, Franza will most likely supplant Barbetta [v. S/S/Bermuda Star, 848 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir. 1988)] as the new majority rule.” Id. at 41. Post-Barbetta, the 1995 American College of Emergency Physicians’ Health Care Guidelines for Cruise Ship Medical Facilities (and its revisions) standardized shipboard healthcare providers, credentialing and training; and the Guidelines’ adoption by Cruise Lines International Association members industry-wide to control the practice of medicine onboard provided legal basis for respondeat superior liability in Franza. Id. at 40.