Cruise Ship Doctor Subject to Local Law

Friday, August 22, 2003
The District Court of Appeal of the Florida Third District ruled that the state courts have personal jurisdiction over a doctor employed on a foreign cruise ship for alleged malpractice that occurred on the high seas where the doctor was served with the complaint while the ship was in a local port. In the instant case, the doctor allegedly failed to properly treat a woman passenger who prematurely went into labor while the ship was at sea near the Cayman Islands. The infant died shortly after birth. After suit was filed by the parents in state court in Miami, arrangements were made for personal service of the summons and complaint on the doctor onboard the ship while it was docked in Miami, its homeport and where the parents had originally embarked on the cruise. On a motion to dismiss, the trial court ruled that the Florida long-arm statute did not cover service of process on a foreign ship. The appellate court overruled that decision and held that neither international nor federal law preclude the state from asserting jurisdiction over persons onboard a foreign vessel that has voluntarily entered a port in the state.

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