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Not Even Rudy Sorondo Can Win 'Em All !

One day you're up, the next day you're down.

Just last week, we covered Judge Sorondo's big win in the 3d DCA here. Rudy convinced the state intermediate appellate court on which he formerly sat to reverse a 2.5 million default judgment entered against his client Celebrity Cruises Inc., a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Different result for Rudy and his client Royal Caribbean today in federal court.

Judge Marcus, writing for a panel of the 11th Circuit that included the affable Richard W. Goldberg from the U.S. Court of International Trade (who loves our district, especially from October through mid-April) issued this decision reversing Judge Lenard's order dismissing a complaint for negligence against Royal Caribbean. Not even Rudy could save the ship on this one.

In an exhaustive analysis of actual and apparent agency in maritime cases and how to properly plead negligence in a maritime case, the Court declined to adopt the broad immunity afforded shipowners in the 5th Circuit's Barbetta.
In this maritime negligence dispute, an elderly cruise ship passenger fell and bashed his head while the vessel, the “Explorer of the Seas,” was docked at port in Bermuda. The injured traveler, Pasquale Vaglio, was wheeled back onto the ship, where he sought treatment from the onboard medical staff in the ship’s designated medical center. Over the next few hours, Vaglio allegedly received such negligent medical attention that his life could not be saved. In particular, the ship’s nurse purportedly failed to assess his cranial trauma, neglected to conduct any diagnostic scans, and released him with no treatment to speak of. The onboard doctor, for his part, failed even to meet with Vaglio for nearly four hours. Tragically, Vaglio died about a week later. Now, Vaglio’s daughter, appellant Patricia Franza, seeks to hold the cruise line, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (“Royal Caribbean”), vicariously liable for the purported negligence of two of its employees, the ship’s doctor and its nurse, under one of two theories: actual agency (also termed respondeat superior) or apparent agency.
Judge Lenard dismissed the complaint in its entirety, relying on the so-called Barbetta-rule - immunity for a shipowner from respondeat superior liability whenever a ship’s employees render negligent medical care to its passengers.

Judge Marcus' opinion pulls no punches, is thoughtful, seems driven by common-sense, and I think gets it right for the right reasons.
No binding precedent in this Court or in its predecessor, the former Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, decided whether a passenger might invoke the principles of actual agency, or those of apparent agency, to impute to a cruise line liability for the medical negligence of its onboard nurse and doctor. After thorough review, we hold that both theories are available in this case. We have repeatedly emphasized that vicarious liability raises fact-bound questions, and we can discern no sound reason in law to carve out a special exemption for all acts of onboard medical negligence. Much has changed in the quarter-century since Barbetta. As we see it, the evolution of legal norms, the rise of a complex cruise industry, and the progression of modern technology have erased whatever utility the Barbetta rule once may have had. We thus decline to adopt the Barbetta rule, and find that the complaint in this case plausibly establishes a claim against Royal Caribbean under the doctrine of actual agency, as well as a claim under the principles of apparent agency.
All told, Barbetta’s assumption that cruise lines lack any medical expertise is difficult to accept in light of the industry’s decision to construct, outfit, and staff medical centers onboard its ships. Moreover, no feature peculiar to cruise lines distinguishes them from other corporate principals which must ordinarily answer for the medical negligence of their employees. Again, we are loath to adopt a principle of law that always immunizes a shipowner without regard to any of the facts.
In short, we do not find that the arguments set forth in Barbetta justify its broad grant of immunity from vicarious liability in all claims of medical malpractice. Rather, we think we are obliged to follow our own maritime precedent, which demands fact-intensive treatment of agency questions. We cannot accept a legal principle that would erect a categorical exception from this settled practice, and we see no reason to follow an outdated rule that serves no useful purpose in modern maritime law. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
I bet expert specialist cruise ship injury attorneys like this guy are loving this decision.

And much has changed in the quarter century since Baretta.


  1. Huge loss.

    Bad law. Bad.

    Seems like one that smart lawyers should have quietly settled to avoid this result, based on the facts.

  2. Good law, based on good sound reasoning and common sense. Who was the winning lawyer?


  3. Philip Parrish was the winning lawyer. Congrats to Phil.

  4. Why are none of you talking about Gov Scott's latest picas for Circuit Judge? Rudy Ruiz is a class act. Jason Bloch is unethical, dumb & will hopefully lose his robe in his first election in two years. He'll be a disgrace to the bench.

  5. Now, now, kids: if you don't have anything nice to say please don't say anything.

    Plus, it's county court. Who cares?

  6. Its not county court, Bloch is now a circuit court judge.

  7. Sorry. State court. Whatever.

  8. Even Cathy Berberian knows there's one roulade she can't sing.

  9. Another "nondescript Hispanic judge" on the circuit bench..too bad his qualifications and demeanor are much better than Bloch. Cant win them all I guess.


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