A petition for certiorari has been filed with the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the Court to reconsider whether a cruise line may be held liable for the medical malpractice of the physicians it hires. Earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court held that the cruise line would not be held liable because the cruise line disclaimed liability for the doctor in the fine print on its cruise tickets and because of the Fifth Circuit case of Barbetta v. S.S. Bermuda Star. In the petition, lawyers for the girl injured by the doctor’s medical malpractice argue that Barbetta should be overruled because it is based on the assumption that a sick passenger at sea somehow has a meaningful choice of physicians to choose from.
However, the reality is that cruise line passengers who need medical care are at the mercy of the cruise line and its selection of medical staff. In addition, because a cruise line physician is subject to the same control as any other member of the crew, liability for medical malpractice must extend to the cruise line. Given that this particular doctor is a resident of London, this case highlights the importance of extending liability to the cruise line to protect domestic consumers from personal injuries caused by the malpractice of a foreign physician from whom recovery might not be feasible.
The Supreme Court of the United States will decide later this year whether to hear the case.