Over the years, traveling by ship has been a mainstay of American vacationers. For those who prefer traveling by water, cruises are a very popular way of relaxing and traveling to interesting destinations. These days, the cruise lines compete for passengers and dollars with many amenities that cannot be found in other travel experiences. But what happens when a person is on a cruise and has a medical emergency? If you are out at sea and have a life threatening illness or event, what is the cruise line’s responsibility to get medical help for you?
That is one question that may be answered in a legal action that has been brought against Holland America, one of the most well-known cruise lines in the world. A woman is claiming that because the cruise line did not bring in an urgent airlift for her, the stroke she suffered was worse than it otherwise would have been. She suffered severe brain damage that has altered her life. She no longer lives at home and has difficulty with basic movement and speech.
The injured passenger’s complaint alleges that the stroke occurred about four hours into the trip and that she was assessed by a physician on board the ship. He recommended that she be taken to a facility that could run a CT scan on her brain to determine the extent of the damage. It appeared to him that she had either had a stroke, or a brain aneurysm. Either of these conditions could result in severe brain injury. Instead of airlifting her to shore, a boat was sent to get her. Rather, the cruise line sent her on this boat to the Bahamas. This took several hours and when she arrived, she was unable to get the scan since the facilities there did not have a CT machine. The passenger was not flown to Florida until the next day since no flights were leaving the Bahamas when she arrived in the middle of the night.
In many instances, cruise lines have airlifted injured passengers to a hospital or medical facilities. Although circumstances differ, it is possible that the Holland America line could have done more for this victim. For example, they might have provided an airlift from the ship or an airlift from the Bahamas to Florida to get her there faster. Instead, she had to wait until the next morning to get a flight from the Bahamas to Florida. Generally, a ship that is still in U.S. territorial waters is required to call the U.S. Coast Guard in a situation requiring life threatening or serious injury. The ship in question was already in international waters when the stroke occurred, but possibly within range of the US Coast Guard helicopters.
Only recently, a Navy helicopter airlifted a stroke victim from a ship off the coast of Hawaii. The elderly man was taken off the Princess Cruises Emerald Princess. The proximity of airlift capabilities to the ship is of course important. In the case of the woman on the Holland America ship, the fastest way to get her to shore may have been limited to the boat that took her to the Bahamas. This will be a question for the fact finder in the lawsuit, whether judge or jury.
In another situation, a cruise ship passenger who was suffering from acute abdominal pain was airlifted by a Coast Guard helicopter from the Anthem of the Seas. The helicopter was about 7o miles from the ship at the time. The ship assisted in the rescue by heading towards land as the Coast Guard responded to the call.
We will watch for any updates on the status of this case which presents some interesting issues. As our readers know, Scholle Law’s brain injury legal team is here to help those who have suffered any type of brain or head injury, whether a mild concussion or a severe head trauma from an accident. These injuries can be devastating.