Medical Care on Cruise Ships

With the recent United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit decision in Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD. that now allows passengers the ability to sue the cruise line if they have been injured due to medical malpractice while onboard, the question becomes what is reasonable medical care while aboard a cruise line?

Medical facilities onboard a cruise are not the same as those on land.  Many of the doctors on these cruise ships are trained in emergency medicine but not all of them.  The medical center on a cruise ship is more akin to a walk-in clinic than a hospital.  There is generally no MRI machine, intensive care unit, or blood bank.  However, most infirmaries do have ventilators, small X-ray machines, and the doctor on call may be able to perform simple lab tests. Prescription drug access is also very limited while onboard.  The ship may have some common prescriptions, but access to more specialized drugs is restricted.

The cruise line must adhere to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) recommendations for onboard medical facilities.  Members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) have agreed to comply with these guidelines. The ACEP only requires each cruise line to have “reasonable” emergency medical care (which means stabilizing the ill or injured passenger until definitive treatment is available onshore).  At a minimum, ships are required to contain the following:

  • One or more doctors and nurses
  • Oxygen
  • Cardiac defibrillators
  • External pacemakers
  • EKG and X-Ray machines
  • Stretchers and wheelchairs
  • Immobilization equipment for back and neck injuries
  • Sutures
  • Medications
  • Bandages

Reasonable emergency medical care on a cruise line is the standard that must be breached in order to hold the cruise line accountable for medical malpractice. Unfortunately, the cruise industry has been able to get away with hiring substandard doctors and nurses until very recently.  The Franza decision has changed this.

The LaBovick Law Group has a team of attorneys who concentrate their practice on maritime/admiralty law.  The law on the water is different than on land.  If you have been injured by the medical negligence of a cruise line doctor, call today for a free consultation.

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