Case Of The Sick Child At Sea

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 COURT REPORTER                                                                                         1. 800.973.1177

 Case Of The Sick Child At Sea
 [By James Kilpatrick]
 In March 1997, the Carlisle family of Ann Arbor, Mich., embarked upon a Caribbean cruise. Their vacation ended abruptly in Cozumel after daughter
 Elizabeth, 14, fell seriously ill. Last month the resulting lawsuit reached the U.S. Supreme Court. We will know in October if the high court will take the case.

The facts are not in dispute. The Carnival           “He is not and shall not be considered in             “Because it is foreseeable that some cruise
cruise ship Ecstasy was only two days out            any respect whatsoever as the employee,               passengers at sea will develop medical
of Miami when Elizabeth developed serious            servant, or agent of the carrier and the              problems and the only realistic alternative
abdominal pain. She consulted the ship’s             carrier shall not be liable ...” et cetera, et        for such an ill or injured passenger is
physician, Dr. Mauro Neri. According to the          cetera.                                               treatment by the ship’s doctor provided by
record, he repeatedly advised the family that                                                              the cruise line, there is an element of control
she was suffering only from flu. He saw no           Was this disclaimer sufficient to quash the           over the doctor-patient relationship. ... We
persuasive evidence of appendicitis. When            girl’s suit against Carnival?                         hold that the cruise line’s duty to exercise
the pain grew worse, the family flew home.                                                                 reasonable care under the circumstances
There her ruptured appendix was removed,             The Supreme Court of Florida ruled                    extends to the actions of a ship’s doctor
but not before the teenager had been                 reluctantly last February that it was indeed          placed on board by the cruise line.”
rendered sterile.                                    sufficient: Carnival was not responsible for
                                                     the opinions of its salaried shipboard doctor.        After all, said Judge Nesbitt, the ship’s
Elizabeth sued the Carnival line in the lower        Citing cases, the court held that Dr. Neri            doctor is an agent of the cruise line. His
state courts of Florida. She lost in the trial       was “an independent contractor.” A long               negligence, if proved, is also the line’s
court on Carnival’s motion for summary               line of precedents supports the view that a           negligence:
judgment, but won in a District Court of             shipowner “may not be held vicariously liable
Appeal - only to lose again last February in         for the medical negligence of its shipboard           “A cruise ship is a city afloat with hundreds
the state Supreme Court. In her petition to          doctor.”                                              of temporary citizens, some of whom are
the U.S. Supreme Court she challenges a                                                                    passengers and some of whom are the
line of cases that appear to immunize cruise         This opinion by Justice Peggy Quince                  employees and agents of the cruise line who
lines from responsibility for the malpractice        was closer to quarter-hearted than                    comprise the ship’s crew, each of whom,
of their doctors.                                    half-hearted. Florida’s highest court                 within their particular sphere, owes a duty of
                                                     was clearly unconvinced by Carnival’s                 reasonable care to the passengers.”
Was this doctor an independent agent or              defense: “We find merit in the plaintiffs’
an employee? Before sailing from Miami,              argument and the reasoning of the District            Judge Nesbitt’s reasoning in the lower
Carnival had entered into a contract with            Court.” Nevertheless, “we must adhere                 Florida court strikes me as too solid to be
Dr. Neri, a resident of London. At a salary          to the federal principles of harmony and              set aside by outdated precedent. Today’s
of $,057 a week he was to serve as ship’s           uniformity.”                                          mammoth cruise liners are floating hotels.
doctor. He would be introduced as such at                                                                  Ship doctors are indispensable staff.
a welcoming embarkation party. He would              The effect was to reverse a sound opinion             Maritime law ought to treat them as such.
wear an officer’s uniform with four gold             from Joseph Nesbitt, senior judge of
stripes. His name and photograph would be            Florida’s third District Court of Appeal. He          (Letters to Mr. Kilpatrick should be sent by
used in Carnival’s promotional materials. By         agreed that a long line of precedents would           e-mail to
every outward appearance, he was an officer          militate against the young woman, but times
                                                                                                           COPYRIGHT 2005 UNIVERSAL PRESS
on an ocean-going ship.                              have changed since the long line began: “The
                                                     practical realities of the competitive cruise
On the other hand, maybe he wasn’t. The              industry, and the reasonably anticipated
                                                                                                           This feature may not be reproduced or
cruise ticket issued to the Carlisles carried a      risks of taking a small city of people to sea
                                                                                                           distributed electronically, in print or
few lines of fine print: The doctor was aboard       for days at a time, all but dictate a doctor’s
                                                                                                           otherwise without the written permission of
solely for the convenience of passengers.            presence.”
                                                                                                           uclick and Universal Press Syndicate.


Description: The facts are not in dispute. The Carnival cruise ship Ecstasy was only two days out of Miami when Elizabeth developed serious abdominal pain. She consulted the ships physician, Dr. Mauro Neri. According to the record, he repeatedly advised the family that she was suffering only from flu. He saw no persuasive evidence of appendicitis.
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