Cruise lines are not responsible for the negligence of cruise ship physicians when passengers are treated, unless the line knowingly hires an unqualified doctor, according to a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.

The court's decision overturns a lower court's ruling that the carrier, in this case Carnival Cruise Lines, was liable for the actions of an onboard physician.

The case resulted from a March 1997 incident in which Elizabeth Carlisle, a 14-year-old from Michigan, was with her family on the Carnival Ecstasy when she suffered a ruptured appendix and was misdiagnosed by the cruise ship physician, Dr. Mauro Neri, who diagnosed her with the flu.

The family went home early, and Carlisle was properly diagnosed with a ruptured appendix. A resulting infection from the delay in proper treatment rendered her sterile.

The family sued Carnival.

In a 20-page opinion handed down Feb. 15, the court said that under federal maritime law, the cruise line "has a duty to employ a doctor who is competent and duly qualified. If the carrier breaches its duty, it is responsible for its own negligence. However, if the doctor is negligent in treating a passenger, that negligence will not be imputed to the carrier."

The court noted that because ships travel through different states as well as international jurisdictions, there must be uniformity in applying maritime law.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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