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Christmas arrived early for Carnival Cruise Line this year when it succeeded in having yet another injured cruise ship passenger’s claim dismissed before the case ever reached a jury.  The case involved a slip and fall accident that occurred on a staircase aboard the ill-fated Carnival Triumph when a passenger slipped and fell while attempting to descend the staircase on the first full day of her cruise. She claimed that her fall was caused by a “liquid” on the step, and as a result of her fall, she shattered her left elbow and had to undergo a number of surgeries in an effort to repair it.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian, and the other major cruise lines routinely move for summary judgment–a legal process where a judge is asked to dismiss an entire pending case before a jury ever hears the facts because, as the standard requires, “there is no genuine issue of material fact”. In other words, the facts of the case are such that no possible jury could ever render a verdict in favor of the non-moving party–which in cruise ship accident litigation is inevitably and virtually always the injured passenger. To oppose and defeat the motion, all the injured plaintiff has to show the court is that a jury could reasonably return a verdict for them, by a standard that would amount to more than a mere “scintilla of evidence.”

In this case, the plaintiff sued Carnival and alleged in her one-count complaint that Carnival was negligent and responsible for her injuries based upon the following failures:

(1) failing to properly maintain the floor in a reasonably safe condition;

(2) failing to design the deck in a safe manner;

(3) failing to warn;

(4) failing to install a nonslip surface;

(5) failing to keep the deck in a clean/dry condition;

(6) failing to install proper lighting;

(7) failing to prevent other passengers from carrying uncovered drinks out of the

Paris Restaurant and across marble flooring.

Carnival asked the Court to dismiss the entire case, claiming that it had no previous knowledge of any condition which the plaintiff claimed was the cause of her fall and, accordingly, was not responsible for her injuries.

Cases like this against a cruise line for personal injuries are governed by maritime law, which sets the standard of care that a cruise ship owes to its passengers as simply “ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances.”  

To win a case against a cruise ship, a plaintiff must be able to prove the following:

(1) A dangerous condition existed,

(2) The cruise ship actually knew about the dangerous condition, and

(3) If the ship did not actually know about the danger, it should and could have known because the condition existed long enough to have been corrected, or in this case cleaned up.

Here, the plaintiff relied heavily on her husband’s testimony that he saw other passengers carrying drinks in uncovered containers as they left the Paris restaurant. Like her husband, the plaintiff testified that she also saw people “carrying things in and out” and that “God only knows who could have spilled it.” She also claimed that her husband had seen the liquid when she fell and had  tried to help catch her.

It sounds like a case a jury could hear and decide, doesn’t it? In support of the decision to dismiss the case, the judge’s order notes that the plaintiff was unable to place a X on the precise location of the liquid, saying only that it was on the top stair. She also couldn’t identify what the liquid was when asked if it was bleach, vodka, or Coke.

The fatal lack of evidence, in my opinion, was her inability to show that the spill was on the floor long enough to allow the ship to clean it up. The court was unpersuaded by her argument that there was a genuine issue of fact, in the form of the evidence cobbled together and presented by her and her husband’s testimony.

While we did not represent this claimant, her result is typical, given the high legal hurdles that one must overcome to hold a cruise line accountable for an injury that happens aboard a cruise ship. If you are hurt while on a cruise, we recommend that you immediately talk with an experienced cruise ship accident lawyer about your potential claim.

Our office has investigated thousands of cases against Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, MSC, Princess, Costa, Holland America, Azamara, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, and the other major cruise lines since 1991.  We are pleased to offer you a free initial and confidential consultation by telephone at 305-441-0440, toll free at 1-866-4529 email at [email protected], SKYPE, or FACETIME. Since there are strict deadlines as to where and how these claims can be filed and litigated, we suggest you call us as soon as possible–from the ship if possible–so that we can begin to help you understand your legal rights and preserve the important evidence as to how and why your accident occurred.

Call us today. We are ready to help you hold the cruise line responsible to pay you for your medical bills, time lost from work, reimbursement for transportation, and pain and suffering. Not all accidents on cruise lines are viable cases; therefore, it is crucial to understand what constitutes a winnable case and how to present it successfully.