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Court: No more med-mal liability protection on the open seas

Medical care is becoming more sophisticated and more portable all the time. Complicated procedures that used to be available only in major hospitals can now be done in remote areas of the world if funds and trained personnel are available. At the very least, patients needing complicated emergency care can be transferred to a properly equipped hospital by helicopter.

Because high-quality medical care is now portable, this new reality should change our expectations of the medical care offered by certain companies, like cruise lines. Last November, we wrote about a medical malpractice lawsuit challenging broad immunity for cruise lines. Recently, that challenge was upheld when an appellate court refused to reconsider a ruling against Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

In 2011, a passenger aboard a cruise suffered a serious head injury while on an excursion in Bermuda. He received minimal treatment hours after the incident and was not airlifted to a hospital until the next day. He died about a week later.

About 100 years'-worth of court rulings have largely given cruise lines immunity from medical negligence lawsuits, including a particular circuit court ruling in 1988. In this recent case, however, judges ruled that times have changed, and it no longer makes sense to hold cruise lines to a lower standard of care when they have the capability to offer much better treatment to injured passengers.

Royal Caribbean asked that the ruling be reconsidered, but a federal appellate court recently refused. The ruling will stand until or unless the company can successfully appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There was a time when good medical care was not very portable, and medical professionals were limited in what treatments they could offer while on the open sea. But in light of advancements in medical care and the vast amounts of money that cruise lines have at their disposal, liability shields are no longer appropriate.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Court Rejects Royal Caribbean’s Appeal of Medical Malpractice Ruling," Jan. 28, 2015

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Breslin and Breslin, PA, Donald A. Caminiti, Esq., was one of six law firms selected by the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey to act as special counsel to represent it in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry to recover Medicaid and other health related costs incurred by the state resulting from tobacco related illnesses.