Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Citation772 F.3d 1225
Decision Date10 November 2014
Docket NumberNo. 13–13067.,13–13067.
PartiesPatricia FRANZA, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Pasquale F. Vaglio, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES, LTD., a Liberian corporation, Defendant–Appellee.

Philip D. Parrish, Philip D. Parrish, PA, South Miami, FL, Joel M. Barnett, Waks & Barnett, PA, Miami, FL, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Darren W. Friedman, Marcus Mahfood, Elisha Sullivan, Foreman Friedman, PA, Rodolfo Sorondo, Jr., Holland & Knight, LLP, Miami, FL, for DefendantAppellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. D.C. Docket No. 1:13–cv–20090–JAL.

Before MARCUS and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG,* Judge.


MARCUS, Circuit Judge:

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.

Franza commenced this suit against Royal Caribbean in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 and the general maritime law, but the district court dismissed her complaint in its entirety. First, in disposing of Franza's actual agency claim, the trial court applied a longstanding rule set forth most prominently in Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, 848 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir.1988). Although the general maritime law of the United States has long embraced the principles of agency law, the so-called Barbetta rule immunizes a shipowner from respondeat superior liability whenever a ship's employees render negligent medical care to its passengers. The rule confers this broad immunity no matter how clear the shipowner's control over its medical staff or how egregious the claimed acts of negligence. Separately, the trial court dismissed Franza's apparent agency claim as inadequately pled.

On appeal, Franza raises two questions of first impression. 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. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


When we review a dismissal granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, we accept the well-pled allegations in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1335 (11th Cir.2012) (per curiam). Viewed through this lens, the facts as pled and the procedural history are straightforward.

On July 23, 2011, Pasquale Vaglio was a passenger aboard the “Explorer of the Seas,” a cruise ship owned and operated by Royal Caribbean. Compl. ¶¶ 9; 8. Together with his wife and family, id. ¶¶ 11, 13, Vaglio traveled with Royal Caribbean to a port-of-call in Bermuda. After the ship docked in Bermuda early in the morning, Vaglio fell while boarding a trolley “at or near the dock” and suffered a severe blow to the head.Id. ¶ 10. Although Vaglio “could have easily been referred ashore for ... examination, evaluation and treatment,” id. ¶ 44, he was instead “taken in a wheelchair to the ship's infirmary,” id. ¶ 11. In fact, notwithstanding other treatment options, Vaglio allegedly “was required to go to the ship's medical center to be seen for his injuries.” Id. ¶ 35 (emphasis added).

Vaglio first entered the ship's infirmary at about 10:00 a.m. Id. ¶ 11. No physician examined him at that time; rather, Racquel Y. Garcia, a nurse allegedly employed full-time by Royal Caribbean, performed the first relevant medical evaluation. Id. Nurse Garcia knew about the trolley accident, and indeed she observed a lump and an abrasion on Vaglio's head. Id. Nevertheless, without administering or even recommending any diagnostic scans, Nurse Garcia advised Vaglio and his wife that Vaglio “was fine to return to his cabin.” Id. ¶ 11. Cautioning only “that [Vaglio] might have a concussion,” the nurse instructed Vaglio's wife to keep an eye on her husband's condition. Id. Vaglio received no “further care or treatment” during this first visit to the ship's infirmary. Id. Instead, “relying on the advice of the ship's medical personnel,” the Vaglios returned to their cabin at around 10:45 a.m. Id. ¶ 12.

Ninety minutes later, at about 12:15 p.m., Vaglio's son and daughter-in-law “noted a deterioration in [Vaglio's] status.” Id. ¶ 13. Concerned, his daughter-inlaw called 911, but it took approximately twenty minutes for “someone [to] arrive[ ] with a wheelchair to transport Mr. Vaglio to the infirmary.” Id. According to the complaint, Vaglio then encountered another delay: the onboard medical staff would not examine Vaglio until the ship's personnel obtained credit card information. Id. ¶ 14.

At about 1:45 p.m., nearly four hours after his first visit to the ship's infirmary, Vaglio was finally evaluated by the “ship's physician,” Dr. Rogelio Gonzales. Id. ¶¶ 7, 15. Like Nurse Garcia, Dr. Gonzales was allegedly an employee of Royal Caribbean. Id. ¶ 7. During his examination, Dr. Gonzales started a Mannitol

drip and ordered that Vaglio be transferred to King Edward Memorial Hospital in Bermuda “for further care and treatment.” Id. ¶ 15. Vaglio arrived at the Bermudian hospital at approximately 4:22 p.m., about two-and-a-half hours after his only meeting with Dr. Gonzales, and more than six hours after he was first examined by Nurse Garcia. Id. ¶ 16. By that time, Vaglio's life was beyond saving. Id. On July 24, 2011, the day after his deadly fall, Vaglio was airlifted to Winthrop–University Hospital in Mineola, New York. Id. ¶ 17. There he remained in intensive care until he died one week later.

On January 10, 2013, Patricia Franza, Vaglio's daughter and the personal representative of his estate, initiated this suit under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 and the general maritime laws of the United States.1 Notably, Franza did not attempt to sue any of the relevant medical personnel directly. Instead, she filed a three-count complaint solely against Royal Caribbean, and she continues to press two of her three claims on appeal.2 Both remaining counts charge Royal Caribbean with the negligence of its onboard medical personnel, and both counts arise from the same nine categories of allegedly negligent conduct: (1) “failing to properly assess [Vaglio's] condition”; (2) “allowing a nurse to make the initial assessment”; (3) “failing to have a doctor assess [Vaglio]; (4) “failing to timely diagnose and appropriately treat [Vaglio]; (5) “failing to order appropriate diagnostic scans to further assess the degree of injury”; (6) “failing to obtain consultations with appropriate specialists”; (7) “failing to properly monitor [Vaglio]; (8) “failing to evacuate [Vaglio] from the vessel for further care in a timely manner”; and (9) “deviating from the standard of care for patients in Mr. Vaglio's circumstances who had suffered a significant blow to the head.” Id. ¶ 20.

Franza ascribed this misconduct to Royal Caribbean in two ways. First, Franza invoked the doctrine of actual agency, alleging that Royal Caribbean was negligent “by and through the acts of its employees or agents.” Id. In the alternative, she argued that Royal Caribbean was liable “under the theory of apparent agency,” id. ¶ 40, because the cruise line purportedly “manifested to [Vaglio] ... that its medical staff ... were acting as its employees and/or actual agents,” id. ¶ 28, and Vaglio, in turn, “relied to his detriment on his belief that the physician and nurse were direct employees or actual agents of [Royal Caribbean].” Id. ¶ 38.

On May 30, 2013, the district court granted Royal Caribbean's motion to dismiss. Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 948 F.Supp.2d 1327 (S.D.Fla.2013). The trial court addressed Franza's actual agency claim separately from the one based on apparent agency. The court dismissed the actual agency count as a matter of law and with prejudice. Specifically, the district court applied the Barbetta rule to conclude that Franza's actual agency claim was “predicated on duties of care which are not recognized under maritime law.” Id. at 1331. Next,...

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