A recent outbreak of stomach illness on a Caribbean cruise ship is raising questions several questions, namely, what the legal duty of a cruise ship is with regards to medical illness on board.
The ship, a Celebrity Cruise luxury cruise liner and sister line of Royal Caribbean cruise liner, set sail out of Charleston, S.C. on February 15 on an 11 night Caribbean voyage. According to a Celebrity Cruise spokeswoman, the cruise liner had approximately 300 of its 1,800 passengers fall ill, complaining of stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea.
Norovirus is the suspect, a virus which is common to cruise ships. It's really just the average stomach flu, complete with the cramping and vomiting. According to a research study in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, there is a direct link between the poor sanitation of cruise ship restrooms and outbreaks of norovirus.
Cruise ships arriving in the United States must report all cases of gastrointestinal illness, treated by their onboard medical staff, to the Center for Disease Control's Vessel Sanitation Program division.
When the number of cases exceeds 3% of the ship's population, the CDC issues a public report.
Clearly, two legal questions come to mind: First, is there any liability for the cruise liner in such a massive outbreak? And second, what is the cruise line's duty to provide medical care onboard.
Under the Kermarec rule, a cruise liner has the duty to provide reasonable care to its passengers.
Although there are no U.S. regulations requiring a cruise ship to have medical personnel on board, the Kermarec rule places a certain duty on cruise ships. It is not uncommon for cruise liners to have medical staff on board, often independently contracted and not always free of charge to the passengers.
The duty of care could extend beyond the provision of medical care and could bring some liability to Celebrity, if it can be shown that the bathrooms were not adequately cleaned, leading to the outbreak.
Although there may be some bad news in store for Celebrity, the news isn't all bad for cruise-goers. There have reportedly been fewer outbreaks of norovirus over the years on cruise ships, according to USA Today.