Ruling opens door for medical malpractice lawsuits over health care aboard cruise ships

Pasquale Vaglio, a retired New York City policeman, was on a cruise with family in the summer of 2001 aboard Royal Caribbean's "Explorer of the Seas" when the accident happened.

Eighty-two-year-old Vaglio fell and hit his head. He was taken to the ship's medical unit, where a nurse did a cursory examination and said Vaglio should rest. What she didn't know — and a doctor wouldn't discover until later — was Vaglio had suffered a brain injury that would kill him.

For more than 100 years, people such as Vaglio's survivors couldn't win medical malpractice lawsuits against cruise lines because of exemptions created through court decisions.

Now, a federal appeals court considering the Vaglio case has ruled the exemption should no longer apply.

The family's initial victory could affect many of the 21 million people who take cruises annually.