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Judges agree that medical standard of care applies to ship nurse

An attorney that focuses on medical malpractice lawsuits knows that medical negligence is defined by whether the treatment at issue fell below the professional standard in the relevant medical community. Thanks to digitization, the borders of that community may be expanding. At a minimum, a patient in a facility in the United States might expect the standard to be national, rather than local.

Yet until very recently, courts did not hold doctors on cruise ships to the same standard as their land-based colleagues. However, a recent decision by a federal appeals court may have far-reaching medical care implications for the approximately 21 million people who take a cruise each year.

Specifically, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the surviving family members of a Royal Caribbean passenger could proceed with their medical negligence suit against the ship’s medical staff. The passenger, an 82-year-old retired policeman, had fallen shortly after disembarking at one of the ship’s scheduled ports. He was examined by a nurse in the ship’s medical unit and cleared to return to his cabin. However, the nurse failed to perform any diagnostic scans, which might have revealed that the passenger had suffered a brain injury. Sadly, he died a few days later. 

As the judges noted, Royal Caribbean mentions its onboard medical center in its promotional materials, and some modern cruise ships have state-of-the art facilities, such as intensive care unities and laboratories. Many also have the technology to conduct a videoconference with onshore medical experts. Thanks to the decision, a medical malpractice lawyer may now work to hold the ship's medical staff accountable for their actions.

Source: USA Today, “Ruling opens door for cruise malpractice lawsuits,” Curt Anderson, Dec. 23, 2014

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