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Death at Sea-What Consumers Of Cruise Lines Need To Know (Part Two)

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 11:48 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Emergency Medicine, Maritime Law, Heart Attacks

The Holland America Rotterdam where Don Bryce died of a heart attack.

ON INJURYBOARD:  A Two-Part Special Report

Read PART ONE -- Death At Sea - The Don and Marlene Bryce Story 



IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ Holland America cruise line Maasdam/ author: Jean-Philippe Boulet, January 08 


IMAGE SOURCE: KOMO-TV, Seattle/ Don and Marlene Bryce/ Courtesy, KOMO-TV reporter Liz Rocca


The Bryce family believes dehydration triggered Don's heart attack and that a visit by the doctor and some IV fluids might have saved his life.

Instead he died on the floor of Don and Marlene's Holland America, MS Rotterdam cabin, number 2629. Two minutes later the doctor arrived.

Don and Marlene Bryce planned a celebratory cruise aboard the Rotterdam.

Don Bryce’s medical history of heart trouble, and the fact that he had a pacemaker, was information contained in the ship’s medical charts.

To make matters worse, Marlene Bryce says after Don’s death, Holland America abandoned her in a room.

"It was horrible, absolutely horrible," says witness, Deanna Soiseth to KOMO-TV in Seattle.  "She was just there by herself in shock."  Nobody checked on her to say 'do you need help ma'am?'"

Soiseth is describing what could be called in legal terms, “emotional distress.”  But emotional distress is not a basis for a lawsuit, according to the cruise lines. It’s in the fine print, says Pensacola, Florida, board certified maritime lawyer and InjuryBoard attorney member, Gerald McGill.

So if the toilets don’t work for a week, or the ship has to deviate from its itinerary and stays off the coast instead of going to the Yucatan, or you are scared when the ship takes a 90 degree turn?

“The ticket says there is no cause of action for emotional distress, according to McGill. 

It’s in the Holland America cruise contract paragraph 4A. 

“We disclaim liability to you under any circumstances for infliction of emotional distress, mental suffering or psychological injury.”  That is, unless the emotional or physical injury was brought on by the negligence or fault of a crewmember, agent, master, owner, or operator of the ship.

You may have some remedies if you are physically injured by tripping on an electrical cable, or if you are slammed into a bulkhead by a sudden sharp turn. And a cruise liner might be responsible for the negligence of the crew, such as deck men and waiters, who are working at the direction of the cruise line.

If you are disembarking the ship, you may have an action as well if something goes wrong.

McGill is representing a woman in her 70s, who alleges she was dropped on the shuttle boat taking her on and off the ship, docked off the boat of Mexico.  She had to take an air ambulance from Mexico to Atlanta, where she was diagnosed with a fractured femur and received a bill for about $10,000.

 “Most people don’t realize until they get hurt.  The tenders (shuttles) are usually operated by independent contractors too, but marine law allows you to sue operators of the ship because they must give a means to board their ship or debarking.  If the seas are too rough, you can successfully sue the ship for not providing a safe method of getting to and from the vessel,” McGill says.

The Pensacola lawyer had to recently pass on a case of a man on a cruise ship who passed out because of low blood sugar brought on by his diabetes. He was forced by the ship to seek medical care in a Mexican hospital before coming back onboard. There, the man says, he was double billed and is on the hook for about $3,000. McGill says there is nothing he can do for this man. 

“The cruise line is not liable for the hospital there; he’d have to sue in Mexican courts. “The ship is immune for a lawsuit even though they forced him off,” he says.

Dr. Mark Gibson, would not comment to KOMO or ABC for their reports, but is practicing somewhere in the east, a Bryce family member tells IB News.  Filing a lawsuit against his medical malpractice insurance might be an option for the family, according to attorney McGill.

All cruise ships have a foreign registry and unlike Holland America, most have doctors trained outside of the U.S. and Canada, making filing a medical malpractice lawsuit possible only if they have insurance, and if you can travel to their country of origin to pursue litigation. 

At this writing, KOMO’s Liz Rocca says that Marlene Bryce has decided not to file a lawsuit, but Bryce is speaking out because she doesn’t want anyone to have to go through what she did. 

But the odds are stacked against them that it could.

It’s estimated nine or ten million Americans will take a cruise this year, perhaps more because of the rising price of gasoline. The industry is constructing 50 new ships over the next five years and moving ports closer to where people live such as in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama.

But the popularity of cruising comes at a time when problems are getting worse. Many cases of calamities at sea, from passengers overboard to Norwalk virus, are chronicled by Dr. Ross Klein, a professor from the University of Newfoundland, in his web site www.cruisejunkie.com.

A fan of cruising (he’s taken seven), he is the author of several books, among them, Cruise Ship Squeeze: The New Pirates of the Seven Seas (New Society Publishers, 2005), as well as dozens of reports on what consumers should know to be prepared to cruise.  

Consumers considering a cruise are advised to:

  • Read the fine print on the ticket – Is the doctor required to be U.S. trained? Does he or she speak English?  Does the doctor carry medical malpractice insurance? Does the cruise line?  
  • Consumers should try to obtain cruise insurance that allows for an air evacuation back to the states from a nearby port, or provides an air evacuation from the ship. You may find that is unavailable if you have a pre-existing condition, or it’s just prohibitively expensive. Check with the travel agent about cancellation and medical insurance.
  • Let the ship know if you have any medical conditions, and what medication you are bringing onboard. Carry your doctor’s phone number, and your medical records including a recent EKG, if pertinent.
  • Cruise passenger tickets limit the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit to one year.  
  • Since cruise ships are registered to a foreign land, they are not subject to U.S. laws, except when they are within water three miles offshore, (12 miles in some places).  That means the cruise line designates the court  jurisdiction, regardless of how difficult it is for consumers to get there. Someone from Seattle would have to pursue a case against Carnival in Miami, while Holland America designates Seattle.
  • Know that if you disembark, you will likely be covering your own cost to get home.
  • If you are involved in an accident onboard, first- determine if you need medical aid. Then- report the incident to the ship’s crew, in writing with dates, times, witnesses, their phone numbers emails and contact information.   Request a copy of the accident report and check it for accuracy.
  • Take photos where the accident occurred with a camera or even a cell phone.
  • Call your doctor when you return home and make sure you are seen if needed

However medical insurance didn’t help Marlene Bryce.

She tells KOMO's Liz Rocca, that she did have medical insurance to cover the cruise, but in this case it wouldn’t have helped the inattentiveness, and lack of care and compassion shown by the nurse and doctor for a very sick man.

For its part, Holland America says it’s apologized to Mrs. Bryce and has improved its services for passengers—at least after they’ve passed. 

"To improve our guest interactions and meet the needs of those guests during tragic events such as a sudden death, we have developed a new department in the Seattle office that trains ship board staff and key personnel in Seattle in how to handle tragic events and offers professional support and guidance.

"We are sorry this program was not in place when Mr. Bryce passed away, and have apologized to Mrs. Bryce."  

Attorney Gerald McGill says the problem facing this family, and other consumers hurt by cruise line corporations shielded from liability, could easily be fixed by Congress.

“You ought to be allowed to bring suit wherever you boarded the vessel, you have to have a physician on board who is qualified to practice in America, and carries medical malpractice insurance. That would be easy.” # 


Read PART ONE -- Death At Sea - The Don and Marlene Bryce Story


Anonymous User
Posted by R Heuman
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 9:07 AM EST

As a Canadian who takes cruises on the same cruise ships as Americans, I object to the requirement that the physician be qualified to practice in the U.S... Why not in Canada? We happen to think our doctors have better training than those in the U.S., and a lot of our doctors are sought out by U.S. hospitals too, which tends to prove that contention. So forget U.S. doctors and require that they be from Canada, or the U.K. or some other first class nation with acceptable medical schools. The U.S. accepts foreign trained doctors far more easily than Canada, for example, and as a result, I wouldn't go near some of the doctors allowed to practice in the U.S. As for medical malpractice insurance, that should be supplied by the cruise line, not the doctor. He is an employee of the cruise line, after all. Note that the insurance requirement is based on the laws of the land of registry, and the U.S. CANNOT require otherwise without violating a lot of international treaties it is party too [not that that has stopped individual U.S. states in the past].

Posted by Anne
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:01 AM EST

You imply that Holland America caused Mr. Bryce's heart attack because the doctor didn't predict it in advance? They ship's doctor should have reminded him to drink plenty of water?

Holland America only employs emergency room physicians who are board certified in the United States. Princess Cruises has British-trained emergency room certified physicians.

Regarding the small print on the cruise line ticket, everyone should read it and understand the terms. And if someone doesn't agree to the terms, don't take a cruise.

Anonymous User
Posted by InjuryBoard
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 8:21 PM EST

Anne -- please check out Part One of this report (links can be found above) to hear Mrs. Bryce's account of what happened aboard ship. It's a truly disturbing story and something that anyone considering travelling should know.

Anonymous User
Posted by Gerald McGill
Friday, June 13, 2008 4:20 PM EST

In response to the June 11, 2008 post by R. Heuman the doctors aboard the cruise ships are declared to be independent contractors not employees of the cruise lines. All cruise line tickets that I know of contain this provision. If you go to any cruise line web site you can find the entire ticket posted. It doesn't matter that the doctors wear the same uniforms as the Captain and other ship's officers, but that does mislead most passengers. Further, the cruise lines do not pay for malpractice insurance for the doctors and for the most part do not require the doctors to carry it.

Anonymous User
Posted by jim embleton
Saturday, June 14, 2008 10:49 AM EST

i have cruised with carnival 8 times i have a heart problem i have a defibulater when i sail with carnival they always make sure that everything is taken care of before i arrive they meet me with a wheel chair help me get on board this all taken care of so i can say first hand that carnival takes care of its passengers to the best of thier ability i am 79 years old so i appreciate everything they do

Anonymous User
Posted by Snookum
Saturday, June 21, 2008 8:06 AM EST

Bottom line seems no one puts value on a human life anymore. I don't care about malpractice, independent contractors, etc., there should be some compassion. People should be in that position to truly help out an ill patient and do whatever they can in an efficient and caring manner and then if it is beyond what they can do they need to contact someone to get this person off the ship and to a hospital. We are not dogs and cats but people. We should help each other. If the physician on the ship is no good then at least the line they are on should know this and put someone there with sufficient knowledge of his profession!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous User
Posted by charlotte
Monday, July 07, 2008 8:18 AM EST

I am very surprised at the treatment that HAL didn't offer Mrs Bryce. Holland America is known for having the best medical facilities at sea because they have a lot of elderly passengers who sail with them and they can get ill with a variety of illnesses. I was shocked when I read what had happen. Just shocked.

Comments for this article are closed.

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