A cruise line may be held responsible for medical negligence if a passenger receives poor medical care onboard, according to a federal appeals court in Atlanta.

The case was brought by the family of Pasquale Vaglio, an elderly man who banged his head while on a Royal Caribbean ship docked in Bermuda.  The family claimed that the onboard medical staff refused to provide treatment until they obtained credit card information, and were so careless in the treatment they did provide that Pasquale died when his life could easily have been saved.

Back in 1988, another federal appeals court had ruled that a cruise line wasn’t legally responsible for the actions of a ship’s doctor or nurse. A passenger could still sue the individual medical provider, of course – but the doctor or nurse might be based in another country and be hard to track down, or might not have enough assets or insurance to provide full compensation.

But in Pasquale’s case, the court said the old rule needed to be changed because cruise lines have evolved tremendously since 1988.

Back then, many ships didn’t have any onboard doctors or medical facilities. Today, however, cruise ships are more like floating cities, and lines such as Royal Caribbean often boast of their state-of-the-art medical care. The court said it would be wrong to let cruise lines brag in this way and then take no responsibility when things go wrong.

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