A medical emergency is probably the last thing cruise ship passengers think about as they set sail.
But it's exactly what happened in 2011 to Joe Vaglio's family on a family reunion trip to Bermuda on the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.
His dad, Pasquale, a retired New York City cop, was just getting off the boat
"He fell backwards, and he hit the concrete on the pier with his head," said Joe Vaglio.
Vaglio died. The family claimed ship personnel committed medical malpractice, delaying treatment. But a Miami judge threw the case out without a trial, relying on more than a century of legal precedent.
"We kind of got cheated, that's what it is, and it really does make me angry," said Joe Vaglio.
But then, a surprise legal ruling came from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that covers busy ports like the ones in Florida.
"Yes, I would say it is a huge reversal," said Andrew Waks, an attorney for the Vaglio family.
The court said that now, because shipboard medical technology has changed so greatly, malpractice lawsuits against cruise lines should be allowed to go forward. One of the judges highlighted the medical personnel and facilities Royal Caribbean touted in its own promotional materials.
The cruise line is already appealing. In court papers, the company said "while cruise ships may have improved their medical facilities in the last 100 years, they should not be punished for it."
"This isn't over. Obviously, it's a round that clearly has gone to those who are interested in representing passengers," said Mark Houck, an adjunct professor at the University of Miami law school.
The Vaglios say the ruling is common sense
"If you're going to like carry 4,000 people on a ship, you have to have responsibility."