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Medical Malpractice on a Cruise Ship


Franza Decision. What Does It Mean?

Recently the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals—which governs Florida, Georgia, and Alabama—decided a very important case relating to cruise ships. Previous cases had held that if a cruise ship’s doctor committed malpractice on a passenger, the cruise line was not liable for that doctor’s conduct.

The decisions before Franza were not realistic in the sense that a cruise line chose the doctor to place on their ship, they had every chance to examine the qualifications of the doctor, and do a background check on the doctor. Still, the previous decisions spoke as though the passenger on a cruise had a choice of doctors on the vessel when in fact there was only one doctor on the vessel: the doctor hired by the cruise line.

The previous cases kept giving the cruise line a pass if the doctor that the cruise line chose and hired committed malpractice on the vessel. That era is now hopefully over for good. The Franza decision noted that the ship’s doctor maintained all indications of being an employee—not just an independent contractor—of the cruise line. As such, the cruise line may be responsible for any negligence of that doctor.

The significance is that the claimant can now pursue the cruise line when its chosen doctor commits malpractice on the vessel. Previously, the claimant had to try to pursue the doctor back in his home country. (Few doctors were, or are, Americans on cruise ships.)

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