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Cruise Lines Can be Held Liable for the Negligence of their Agents

The recent United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit opinion in Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD. now allows passengers injured as the result of medical negligence while onboard the ability to sue the cruise line based on agency theory.  This case effectively overrules the case Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, 848 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir. 1988) and the infamous “Barbetta rule.”  The “Barbetta rule” recognized that agency theory, or respondeat superior (Latin for “let the master answer” and in legal circumstances holds an employer responsible for the acts of its employees), was alive and well in maritime actions but that the shipowner would not be liable for the medical negligence of its crew.  The new “Franza rule” is finally a step forward in protecting passengers from the hiring of substandard emergency doctors and nurses by the cruise industry.

What is agency theory?

Agency theory has long been used to hold the cruise industry liable for the negligent hiring of employees.  One infamous case involved a cruise line employee who raped a passenger while onshore.  In Doe v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., Celebrity Cruises (a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean) was held liable for the negligent hiring of an employee who raped a passenger.  The court also held that the sexual battery of a cruise ship passenger by crewman while onshore during the scheduled port of call occurred within the scope of the carrier-passenger relationship, and thus the cruise line was strictly liable for the passenger’s injuries.

Proving agency requires a showing of all of the following:

  1. Acknowledgment by the principal (cruise line) and the agent (excursion operator or ship medical staff) will act for it
  2. The agent’s acceptance of the undertaking
  3. The principal’s control over the agent’s acts.

Proving apparent agency requires a showing of all of the following:

  1. Representations by the principal that the agent is authorized to act on its behalf
  2. A reasonable belief of the existence of the agency relationship
  3. Reasonable reliance on such belief to the plaintiff’s detriment.

The LaBovick Law Group has a team of maritime injury attorneys.  The law on the water is different than on land.  If you have been injured while on a cruise due to the negligence of a crew member or medical staff, contact us today for a free consultation.

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