With the holiday season fast approaching, I have been thinking a lot about vacation. Abandoning the cold, sitting on a warm sunny beach, umbrella-drink in hand sounds pretty good.
But one thing is for sure, after the news this week, I will be thinking twice about taking a cruise ship to get there.
Over the weekend a man was arrested for posing as a doctor for years aboard cruise ships in Norway and Germany. The man, allegedly, treated hundreds of patients and worked for several different cruise companies, including Carnival – one of the worlds largest cruise carriers – before he was discovered. While information about the extent of his ruse is still coming out, according to foreign news outlets, written up by The Inquisitor, the man also worked on ships in the Caribbean.
He was able to get his false information and papers past a number of people aboard multiple cruise lines in order to work as a doctor. On his paperwork, he falsely claimed to be a specialist in anesthesia and also intensive care.
It is clear that the cruise companies that hired him didn’t sufficiently verify any of his credentials, including where he went to medical school, if he graduated with a degree, his specialties, if he had been the subject of investigation, or even if he was licensed to practice medicine.
Cruise companies have a duty to hire competent medical staff* and they’d probably be on the hook if someone was killed or injured by this guy. But let’s say they hire someone with real credentials, but who was still negligent (which happens all the time).
Incredibly for over 100 years, the law has shockingly allowed cruise lines to escape any liability for medical malpractice committed by the medical teams they hire.
Luckily, things have begun to change. Just last year, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found the old rule, which limited the companies’ liability, outdated. In describing the case, USA Today explained,
The judges noted that the Royal Caribbean doctor and nurse wore cruise line uniforms, were presented as ship employees and that the onboard medical center was described glowingly in promotional materials. Some modern cruise ships, they noted, have sophisticated intensive care units, laboratories and the ability to do live video conference links with medical experts on shore.
Yet medical malpractice isn’t the only thing that could go wrong on a cruise. Sexual assaults, drowning, and widespread illness, are more common than you might think. And as described by the Center for Justice & Democracy’s new FAQ, You Cruise, You Might Lose, the legal hurdles for passengers seeking justice can be daunting.
CJ&D explains in some detail how cruise passengers’ legal rights and remedies have been limited when something does go wrong.
As it turns out, according to CJ&D,
The cruise industry has more immunity from wrongdoing than virtually any other industry in America, and certainly more than other industries that transport people, on whom we rely for our safety.
There are multiple ways laws and contracts limit a cruise company’s liability. Many of these are unknown to passengers- starting with the ticket (which is actually a binding contract!)
Courts have interpreted archaic maritime laws to allow cruise companies to insert a vast array of provisions into ticket “contracts” that make it difficult or impossible for Americans to bring suit should they be hurt. And if the ship does not touch a U.S. port, passengers’ legal rights are even more limited.
And even if a passenger does know to look at the ticket for contract information, it is unlikely that he/she will be able to understand the legal rights they are relinquishing.
The law is complicated and passengers should know what they might face before setting sail. If you’re thinking about it – like I am - CJ&D's new FAQ is a must read!
* Robert D. Peltz & Carol L. Finklehoffe, Time Has Passed Barbetta by: Washing Away over 100 Years of Outdated Precedent, 89 Tul. L. Rev. 1207, 1213 (2015)