When most of us think of medical care, we only think of the hospitals and clinics near our home. But what happens when you need medical care while on vacation? How about on a cruise ship out on the open sea?

Cruise ships generally have at least one medical staff member on board, and it is typically understood that treatment resources outside of a hospital setting might be limited. Nonetheless, patients who suffer illness or injury on a cruise ship have a right to expect that they will receive quality medical care or that they will be transported in a timely fashion to a hospital on land.

The cruise industry has largely enjoyed immunity from medical negligence lawsuits due to a 1988 circuit court ruling. The ruling essentially gave immunity to cruise lines in cases where their employees administered negligent care. Thankfully, that ruling was recently called “outdated” by a circuit court deciding to reinstate a medical negligence lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises.

In 2011, a cruise passenger suffered a head injury while his ship was at port in Bermuda. He received only minimal treatment from the ship’s nurse and doctor. In fact, he had to wait four hours just to see the doctor. It was not until the next day that he was airlifted to a hospital on the East Coast. He died just a week later.

The patient’s daughter sued Royal Caribbean, but the cruise line sought to have the case dismissed, claiming it had immunity under the 1988 ruling. Thankfully, an appellate court called the older ruling outdated and reinstated the negligence suit. The court noted that the cruise industry has grown significantly since the 1980s and can now offer much more sophisticated technology aboard cruise ships. The case will now head back to trial court.

There are times when patients receive substandard treatment because they are traveling in areas with poor medical care. And in some cases, there is no legal remedy for patients. But if a major cruise line can essentially create a floating city with all the creature comforts, it should be able to offer quality medical care as well.

Source: L.A. Times, “Court ruling reinstates negligence suit against cruise line,” Hugo Martin, Nov. 13, 2014