Pain in Paradise: Medical Malpractice on Cruise Ships

Unfortunately, injuries and illness can strike anywhere . . . even in paradise. In recent years, reports of accidents and injuries on cruise ships have been a reminder of this fact, with blissful passengers finding their vacation blindsided by an accident or illness.

Trouble in Paradise

Cruises lines are aware that they are essentially the passenger’s only option for treatment. This is why most major cruise lines are well-equipped for dealing with medical issue. Most ships have at least one doctor and two nurses. The ship’s medical personnel must have at least three years of post-graduation experience in general or emergency medicine, per guidelines by the American College of Emergency Physicians. While they may have certain hours, medical staff must be on-call at all hours of the day. Additionally, cruise ships are stocked with beds for sick patients, as well as basic and life-saving devices and equipment. This includes wheelchairs, stretchers, back boards, defibrillators, oxygen, EGK tests, and labs capable of testing.

Are Cruise Ships Ready for Medical Emergencies?

According to the World Health Organization, medical personnel on cruise ships most often find themselves dealing with gastrointestinal illnesses, like norovirus. Also common are respiratory illnesses and motion sickness. Still, they must be prepared for other emergencies, like heart attacks, strokes, and serious injuries, like head trauma. In some cases, they might have to perform life-saving measures or minor surgery.

In most cases, cruise ships doctors and medical personnel are conscientious, well-trained professionals. But mistakes, either through simple error or negligence, can still occur.

How Cruise Ship Medical Malpractice Happens

In one recent example of this, a young man was enjoying his honeymoon cruise when he sliced his foot on some coral while paddle-boarding in Honduras. Rather than seek treatment from a doctor in Honduras, he returned to the boat, where the ship’s doctor stitched up the cut, then provided him with ibuprofen and antibiotics, all while claiming that his wound was minor. But upon experiencing excruciating pain once he returned home, including swelling and a rash on his foot, the man went to his local hospital, where he learned that pieces of coral were still stuck inside his wound. He had to undergo emergency surgery to avoid amputation, and still experiences lingering pain.

In this case, it seems like the doctor was clearly negligent in his procedure. However, determining medical malpractice on a cruise ship is not always an easy task. As in all malpractice cases, medical malpractice only occurs on a cruise ship if:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed
  • The doctor was negligent
  • The doctor’s negligence caused the harm
  • The harm lead to specific damage

Finding Help

For example, if a passenger becomes ill after a norovirus outbreak, it would not necessarily be medical malpractice, because the doctor did not directly cause the harm. On the other hand, if a busy doctor forgets to check vital signs and a patient goes into cardiac arrest, the doctor might be  liable.

Additionally, suing for cruise ship medical malpractice can lead to complex questions of who is liable for the harm. Can you directly sue the doctor, or do you have to sue the cruise line? If the ship left from Miami and the incident happened in Honduras, but the injured person is from Ohio, where do they file the lawsuit? The answers to these questions depend on many factors, which is why the help of an attorney is invaluable during a cruise ship medical malpractice case.


The attorneys at Perenich,Caulfield, Avril & Noyes  represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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