Cruise ships are very popular these days. Aside from ease of travel to multiple destinations, people get to save money through great deals and cruise packages. There’s no doubt that we all need a vacation from time to time; and cruise ships have answered the dilemma of ‘pre-trip’ stress with their convenient offers. However, not all cruise lines have the best care when it comes to passenger medical needs.

What will you do if you – or a loved one – suddenly falls ill during a pleasant trip? Do you sue, or let it be?

Back To Barbetta


The Barbetta rule is one that for many years, had been the guideline followed by maritime personnel and the courts. Simply put, it states that medical staff hired by a cruise line is deemed as independent contractors, and do NOT fall under their jurisdiction. Passengers also shouldn’t expect a five-star medical treatment while on board because after all, cruise ships are not in the health business. What cruise lines are obligated to do is hire competent personnel to take care of basic medical requirements. So if you or your family gets sick, you might not receive the treatment you would have had in an on-shore facility.

This has left plenty of families miserable. Does this mean they can’t sue for medical malpractice? Who will pay for hospital expenses? What about fatalities? This is what happened to one Pasquale Vaglio in 2011, when he died after a fall during a sightseeing trip in Bermuda.

Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises

At around 10AM, Vaglio (83) suffered severe head injury shortly after coming ashore in Bermuda. Instead of being taken to a hospital, he was wheeled to the Royal Caribbean’s infirmary, where he and his family awaited medical treatment. No doctor came – but there was a nurse who did not even suggest a diagnostic scan. She simply examined his head for the bump and said that Vaglio can return to the cabin. His wife was advised to observe him for a sign of concussion; but no further medical attention was given.

Unfortunately, Vaglio’s condition worsened. A week after he was transferred to Winhtrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York, he died. The family sued, of course. But attorneys of Royal Caribbean Cruises argue that the cruise line cannot be held liable because they are ‘not a floating hospital’. The family believes though, that had Vaglio not been misdiagnosed, that he would still be alive today.

What Happens Now

Cruise ships and traveling abroad are definitely fun experiences. However, to avoid similar scenarios, be prepared for the unexpected. Weeks before a trip, get assistance from your insurer and your medical malpractice attorney on what to do in case of injury or fatality while at sea. While cruise lines have improved dramatically over time, it’s not an assurance that they will carry top-of-the-line medical employees (some do, others do not). Be sure to check out reviews and recommendations before booking a trip.

Medical malpractice lawsuits alone are complicated – but having them happen to you on foreign waters is even more difficult. Ask a legal professional on how best to approach such situations for a stress-free vacation.

Leave a Reply