Cruise Ship Owner May Be Liable to Crew or Passengers for Medical Treatment

The Personal representative of the estate of a deceased cruise ship photographer brought an action against a shipowner alleging the ship was unseaworthy based on the alleged negligence of the vessel's medical crew in diagnosing and treating her ectopic pregnancy. The cruise ship was held not unseaworthy in the absence of any allegation that the doctor was not fit for his ordinary duties or not up to the ordinary standards of his profession.


The shipowner-passenger relationship, including the shipowner's liability to passengers, is governed by the terms of the contract of passage. The shipowner can disclaim or assume the obligations pertaining to the medical care of the vessel's passengers, including, for example, the duty to implement shipboard policies and procedures, by expanding or constricting its contractual duties. If a shipowner undertakes to employ a doctor on board the vessel for the care of passengers, the doctor's negligence will not be imputed to the shipowner.


When a doctor is employed for the purpose of treating the ship's seamen, the Jones Act makes the shipowner liable to the seamen for the doctor's negligent treatment. See: Flueras v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 69 So.3d 1101, 36 Fla. L. Weekly D2131 (Fla.App. 3 Dist. Sep 28, 2011)