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Cruise ships are often places of joy – places where families do fun activities together and enjoy a vacation away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. While cruising may be an escape from reality, some realities can follow you aboard a cruise line, including medical malpractice.

On a cruise ship, there are many ways someone could become hurt or ill and require medical attention. Passengers on these cruise ships expect medical care to be provided in a competent manner by the doctors and nurses on board who have been charged with their health and wellbeing.

If the medical care received isn’t sufficient or a condition is made worse by treatment received while onboard, you may have a case of medical malpractice. Here’s what you need to know about medical malpractice on Florida cruise ships and your recourse if you think you have a case.

Can You File a Malpractice Claim Against a Doctor on a Cruise?

For a long time, it was not possible to sue a cruise line for medical malpractice. The legal system in the country said that cruise lines and other shipping companies could not be responsible for the negligence of the doctors onboard their vessels. The courts said that it wasn’t realistic for passengers to expect a high level of care when sailing – but that has recently changed.

In 2014, the courts decided that modern cruise ships with luxury amenities could have proper medical facilities onboard. Because of that, medical malpractice claims can now be filed.

In fact, the case that changed it all went as far as to outline when a cruise is and isn’t responsible for the negligent acts of their medical teams on board, such as:

  • If they’ve advertised medical staff or a medical center to passengers
  • They require the medical staff to sail under the ship’s officers and wear the uniform
  • The cruise lines have the right to both hire and fire their medical staff
  • The cruise ship is stocked with hospital supplies and equipment as well as medicine

Medical Malpractice Claims on Cruise Ships passengers for medical services, thereby showing that the cruise line treats its medical staff as its employees

  • The doctors, nurses, and other medical staff are paid by the cruise line
  • A shipboard charge is billed to passengers for medical services, thereby showing that the cruise line treats its medical staff as its employees

Medical Care on Cruise Ships

There are several reasons someone may seek care from medical staff on a cruise ship. The nurses and doctors on the ship are usually the only sources of medical treatment. If they fail to provide adequate care, it can have serious ramifications for your health.

Some ways medical negligence happens on cruise ships that can lead to medical malpractice lawsuits include:

  • Providing the incorrect medical treatment
  • Failing to properly diagnose
  • Not diagnosing the problem in an adequate amount of time
  • Denial of medical treatment
  • Failure to provide medical treatment promptly

If you are injured due to what you believe to be medical malpractice aboard a cruise ship, you do have legal options.


You may be able to seek damages for injuries sustained for what is known in the industry as a “vicarious liability claim” against the medical staff on a ship. You simply must show that the nurse or doctor that treated you on the ship was an apparent or direct agent of the cruise line itself.

About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and named one of America’s Top 100 High-Stakes Litigators. Mr. Winston is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2020 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite,” recognized by Expertise as one of the 20 Best Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys, named one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015-2017, and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida for 2015-2017 and 2019.