Norwegian Cruise Line defends and litigates passenger cruise ship injury claims against them very aggressively, and their team of experienced and well financed lawyers is routinely successful in getting cases against NCL dismissed or settled for very little money. As a lawyer who represents injured cruise ship passengers from around the world, I investigate and file hundreds of cases a year against all the major cruise lines, including Norwegian.
Recently NCL scored another victory against an injured passenger in the case of Salazar v. NCL. Our office did not represent Mr. Salazar or his wife Soraya Ramos, but it is important to understand and analyze the facts of his case and the law as it was applied by the court and used by NCL to have his case dismissed.
There were a number of reasons the judge dismissed the case, but this post will focus on the primary reason, which is commonly referred to in maritime law as “notice.” According to the court record, Mr. Salazar was injured on NCL’s Norwegian Sky when he slipped and fell on liquid that had accumulated on the dance floor of its disco. The Sky had left from Miami on April 28, 2014. Several days into the voyage, after enjoying the “captain’s dinner” along with three or four beers and several glasses of wine, Mr. Salazar and his wife went to the ship’s disco, where he promptly purchased another round of beers. He testified that he was wearing flip-flop sandals with no tread on them.
He decided to ask the DJ to play a certain song, and while walking to the booth–in the dark disco, with flashing strobe lights–he slipped on liquid and fell, injuring his left shoulder. He sued NCL for negligence in Federal Court. NCL’s lawyers took his deposition, which is interrogation under oath, and the following questions and answers were obtained:
Q: I am not asking if you did see your feet. I am not asking if you actually looked down at your feet. I am asking if the light was sufficient to allow you to see your feet if you looked in that direction.
A: Logically, yes, I would see. At the time, even though the lights was [sic] going on and off, at the time the light was on, if I had looked towards my feet, I would have seen it [sic].
Q: But as you walked across the dance floor, you were looking at the deejay booth?
A: I had fixed my eyes on one point, and that was the deejay booth where the *2 cabin is.
Q: You didn’t look at the floor or your feet at all, as you walked across the dance floor?
He also testified that he did not know what the liquid was, how it got there, or how long it had been there before he fell. Nor did he know of a Norwegian crew member who was aware that there was liquid on the floor before he fell. He remained on the floor for about five minutes after his fall, at which point the lights were turned on, and an NCL crew member cleaned up the liquid. He was then taken to the infirmary and was examined by the ship’s doctor.
After his deposition, Norwegian Cruise Line moved for summary judgment, which is a legal process to dismiss a case before it ever reaches a jury. Summary judgment is a lethal weapon used frequently by cruise lines to prevent injured passenger claims from succeeding because of the strict legal criteria and evidentiary proof required under Federal Maritime Law to hold cruise lines accountable for passenger injury claims.
For a court to grant summary judgment in favor of a defendant cruise line, the cruise line has to show that based upon the facts–and under the law–it is entitled to have the case dismissed. My clients often have a very difficult time understanding this. It is complex and hard to accept that a judge can simply dismiss one’s case–especially when one has suffered a serious injury–and deny the plaintiff the right to a jury trial. However, it does happen–all the time. If you are interested in learning more about summary judgment and its effect on cruise ship accident claims, read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56 (a).
NCL’s argument here was one that it typically uses:
(1) the record contains no evidence that it had notice of the alleged risk-creating condition;
(2) it had no duty to warn of a condition that was open and obvious;
1“By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247–48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)
(3) the record contains no evidence that it violated industry standards, statutes, or regulations, or that it negligently maintained the area;
(4) Salazar has failed to establish causation; and
(5) Mr. Salazar has failed to establish that he has sustained any damages.
Mr. Salazar opposed NCL’s summary judgment motion, arguing that each of these issues should be determined by a jury, not by the judge.
The court found that NCL had no legal obligation to warn Mr. Salazar about liquid on the dance floor as the condition (liquid on the dance floor) was “open and obvious” to the ordinary person–not to the subjective perspective of the passenger. The judge’s opinion stated that prudent individuals using common sense and their eyesight would know that there was a spill on the floor since other passengers were drinking and dancing; that alone should have provided Mr. Salazar with “adequate warning that the dance floor had the potential to be slick because the possibility that drinks might be spilled by patrons of various levels of intoxication is obvious to a reasonable person. Moreover, a spilled drink on the dance floor of a cruise discotheque after midnight is not an anomalous condition.”
As a lawyer who handles cruise ship personal injury cases, I disagree with this finding, but it was the ruling. It also serves as a strong warning that investigation and analysis of potential claims against cruise lines are required before a lawsuit is ever filed. This should be done by an experienced maritime injury law firm–and I do not mean to imply that Mr. Salazar’s lawyers did anything improper. In fact, it looks as if they fought this claim tooth and nail. I hope they appealed the judgment.
It should also be mentioned that every case is different, with different facts, parties, and judges. That said, maritime law is complicated and demanding and–as evidenced in this case–can form a brutally effective shield that often serves to protect the profits of the cruise industry.
If you have been injured aboard a cruise ship, it is imperative that you consult with a personal injury lawyer who sues cruise lines. NCL, Carnival, Royal, and most other major cruise lines require that suit be filed in Miami, Florida, within one year of the date of the incident. We offer free initial consultations to anyone, around the world, who has suffered an accident or injury aboard a cruise ship.
Call us today toll-free at 1-866-597-4529 or 305-441-0440, or reach us via email at [email protected], SKYPE, or FaceTime and speak to an experienced cruise ship accident attorney about your potential claim. We are ready to help.