Court ruling reinstates negligence suit against cruise line

A ferry passes in front of the Explorer of the Seas cruise ship in 2007. A court ruling says the family of a man who died after being injured on the ship can pursue a negligence suit against Royal Caribbean Cruises.
(Joel Page / Associated Press)

In a case involving a man who died after a head injury on a cruise, a U.S. appeals court issued a ruling that may eliminate the cruise industry’s broad immunity from medical negligence lawsuits.

Patricia Franza’s lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises focuses on the treatment that her father, Pasquale Vaglio, received after he hit his head while the Explorer of the Seas was in port in Bermuda in 2011.

Vaglio was seen by the ship’s nurse after the accident but received minimal treatment, and the onboard doctor did not evaluate him until four hours later, according to court records. Vaglio was airlifted the following day to a New York hospital, where he died a week later.


Royal Caribbean sought to dismiss the suit, citing a 1988 circuit court ruling that gives immunity to cruise lines when employees give negligent care.

But the latest ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the 1988 case, known as Barbetta vs. SS Bermuda Star, was outdated, considering the advancement of technology on cruise ships and the growth of the industry.

A cruise passenger advocacy group praised the decision, saying it makes the cruise industry responsible for the medical negligence of cruise ship employees.

“We see this as an historic change in the way cruise lines treat people who get sick on cruise ships,” said Kendall Carver, chairman of the International Cruise Victims organization, based in Phoenix.

Franza can take her case back to the trial court, where Royal Caribbean cannot cite the immunity protection of the Barbetta case, said Philip Gerson, a Florida lawyer who specializes in cruise suits.

“It really changes the whole landscape,” he said. “The exception has now gone away.”

A representative for Royal Caribbean could not be reached for comment.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.