Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

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Sorrels.jpgWhile on a cruise ship owned and operated by Norwegian Cruise Line, Teresita Sorrels, was walking on the exterior pool deck after it had rained when she suddenly slipped and fell, suffering an unstable comminuted fracture of her wrist which required open reduction internal fixation surgery. The incident was captured by the ship’s closed-circuit surveillance system and preserved for purposes of litigation.

Sorrels and her husband hired Leesfield & Partners, and sued Norwegian Cruise Line alleging that the dangerous surface of the pool deck lacked the appropriate coefficient of friction (the degree of slip-resistance). They also alleged that NCL failed to warn the passengers of such dangerous condition.

The trial court in Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., ruled in 2014 that the testimony and opinions of the expert hired by Leesfield & Partners ought to be excluded for several reasons. Yesterday however, on August 4, 2015, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the summary judgment finding that the trial court erred in excluding the expert testimony submitted by Sorrels.

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You are on your cruise, walking around and enjoying the amenities. Then, all of a sudden, without warning, you are on the ground. You realize you have slipped and fallen, seriously injuring yourself. However, just because you are injured, don’t expect the cruise line to take responsibility for its negligence and compensate you.

Slip and fall accidents can happen anywhere on cruise ship. Such accidents can be caused by any number of reasons: a foreign substance on the ground, wet floor from mopping, a spill that was not properly detected and cleaned up, lack of anti-slip or anti-skid material on the flooring, defective or missing treads on stairs, lack of warning of a dangerous condition, or even insufficient lighting.

deck cruise ship.jpgUnder the law, a cruise line owes its passengers a duty of “reasonable care under the circumstances.” That is, the cruise line must take reasonable measure to ensure that the floors are free from foreign substances, spills promptly and timely cleaned up, physical or verbal warnings provided and ensure that the floor is otherwise maintained in a safe, clean, and dry condition. This duty requires a cruise line to take affirmative steps, such as have a reasonable inspection process in place, to timely detect and correct a dangerous condition.

To be found liable, a cruise line must have actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition to allow the cruise line an opportunity to correct it. That means the cruise either knew about the condition or the situation existed for a sufficient period of time that the cruise line should have discovered it.

The cruise line will undoubtedly argue that fall was your fault. It is standard for the cruise line to blame the passenger and claim that any dangerous condition was an “open and obvious” condition which you should have seen and avoided. The cruise line will also argue that it had no notice of the dangerous condition or it did not exist for a sufficient time to enable it an opportunity to detect it.

So, what do you do if you fall while on a cruise ship?
Take stock of the situation. Look around and determine what caused you to fall: Was there a foreign substance on the floor? Are your clothes or shoes wet? If there is a foreign substance, how big is it, what color is it (water, soda, coffee)? Can you tell the cause of the foreign substance (is there a leaking beverage machine, is there melting ice, was it a high traffic area where a fellow passenger could have spilled something)? Where there any warning signs in place? Where there any mats or other non-skip material in place?

The second most important thing you must do next is gather evidence. Concretely, this means: Get the names of any witnesses; if there are any crew-members present get their name and/or position; take photographs of the scene.

You must make sure that you (or if you can’t, someone you are traveling with) reports the situation to the cruise line. The cruise line will give you a passenger statement form to complete. Be sure to indicate that your fall was a result of an accident and state the cause of the accident. For example: the floor was wet and I slipped, there were no warning signs present, etc. Once completed, demand a copy of your statement and medical records (if you were seen in the infirmary).

Next, demand the cruise line preserve surveillance footage. Cruise lines have security cameras throughout the vessel and will have likely captured your accident. This is important evidence which can help establish the cause of your accident, the length of time the dangerous condition existed, and the failure of the cruise line to take reasonable steps to detect and correct the dangerous condition. Remember to make this demand in writing.

These simple steps can help ensure the cruise line is held responsible for your injuries and that you are fully compensated.
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We recently reported on two incidents occurring only days apart where cruise passengers had fallen and died as a result of their injuries.

catacombsl-005005706019.jpgThe first incident saw the death of Barbara Wood on the Liberty of the Seas, owned and operated Royal Caribbean Cruises. The investigators and witnesses to the tragedy told the media that Barbara Wood was leaving the ship’s nightclub, Catacombs, when she fell while going down the club’s stairs. She hit her head on one of the steps and sustained a massive head injury, resulting in her death about an hour later.

Less than 48 hours later, Carnival cruise passenger, Walter Bouknight, fell down two floors after falling off a platform in the atrium of the Carnival Fantasy. Passengers who witnessed the events have since reported that alcohol may have been in play. The young man may have been gambling in the ship’s casino a few moments prior to his fall and may have been drinking to the point of intoxication.

In both instances, alcohol consumption and intoxication may have been the main contributing factor to explain these incidents. If there is evidence that these passengers had consumed alcohol prior to their fall, and that the amount of alcohol in their system rendered them intoxicated, Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises respectively could face a lawsuit for having over-served alcohol to these passengers.

Cruise Lines can be held liable for over-serving alcohol to cruise passengers
Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals decided in a landmark case in 2004, that cruise lines can be held liable for over-serving their passengers to the point of intoxication if they sustain injuries caused by their alcohol-related impairment. In Hall v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Judge Schwartz reversed the lower court’s decision ruling that the defendant cruise line has an established duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of its passengers, a duty couched in general maritime law.

Royal Caribbean had argued that the Court of Appeal should look to Florida’s dram shop act as the governing law to resolve that case and not general maritime principles. Had the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with Royal, it would have severely limited the cruise lines’ liability in future similar cases.

cruisedrinks.jpgThe Florida’s Dram Shop Act enacted as Statute 768.125 provides that [a] person who furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person. The exceptions to Florida’s Dram Shop Act are when a Florida business willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or when it knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages.

Consequently, since the Hall decision, cruise passengers have able to bring lawsuits against cruise lines for not only over-serving and essentially intoxicating them while on the ship, but also for intoxicating other passengers who may have become violent towards them as a result of having been served too much alcohol.
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In the early morning hours of the day on Monday, Barbara Wood, a 47-year-old cruise passenger from Middleborough, Massachusetts, hit her head while falling down the stairs aboard the Liberty of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Clip_s2.jpgThe investigation is still ongoing at this time, but some details have already come to light. Mrs. Wood was on a five day cruise which stopped in Cozumel, Mexico and was to end at Port Everglades on Monday morning. Some passengers reported hearing an alert made over the ship’s speakers between 1 and 2 a.m., when the incident occurred.

At that time, Barbara Wood left the ship’s Catacombs nightclub and was allegedly on her way to her cabin. On her way, she slipped on a step while going down the stairs and in her tumble, she hit her head. She was taken to the onboard infirmary when she was pronounced dead about one hour later, before the ship could reach the port according to the cruise line’s spokesman.

Clip.jpgit is unclear at this time what caused the woman to fall to her death. An autopsy will be performed within the next 48 hours to determine the exact cause of death. The autopsy will also help ascertain whether alcohol played a role in the fatal incident or whether investigators should look into the stairs in question as a possible reason for the cruise passenger to slip.

One of the passengers who witnessed the incident, Missy Whitlock, told the media that “[s]he fell down the steps. There was a lot of blood.”

This is the second cruise passenger in as many days that has fallen and died while on a cruise ship. This morning we reported that a cruise passenger fell off a platform located in the atrium of the Carnival Fantasy.
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ship-Fantasy-w630x300.jpgWhile the Cruise Industry is still in the eye of the storm, having to deal with the worst year in terms of public relations amid the tragedy of the Costa Concorda which capsized off the coast of Italy, Carnival’s name remains in the headlines today when we learned that a cruise passenger aboard the Carnival Fantasy died on the ship on Friday.

The early statements released by the authorities in the Bahamas have revealed that a 26-year-old cruise passenger from South Carolina fell to his death while the ship was docked in Nassau, Bahamas. The ship departed from Charleston, South Carolina, on a 5-day cruise in the Bahamas.

As a result of the death of the young american cruise passenger, the authorities and Carnival remained docked in Nassau for one additional day to allow the investigation to proceed. A visit to Freeport was cancelled by Carnival, which released the following statement on Saturday: “We are deeply saddened by this tragic event and extend our heartfelt condolences to the guest’s family and loved ones

The details of the actual incident that resulted in the cruise passengers’ death are still vague at this early stage of the investigation. The theory that has been conveyed to the media by the Bahamas police supposes that the man, his name has yet to be released to the media, jumped off one of the platforms of the Carnival Fantasy Atrium and fell to his death. He was declared dead at the scene.


The Carnival Fantasy Atrium where the incident allegedly took place

Carnival issued another statement relaying the same theory to the media that one of its passenger apparently jumped from one floor to another aboard the ship and fell to his death.

We will learn more of the circumstances of this young man’s death in the days and weeks to come. This new tragedy however could not come at a worst time for Carnival and for the cruise industry as a whole. It is still dealing with daily blows and backlashes from consumers after the horrendous capsizing of the Costa Concorda which has led to 17 deaths and hundreds of passengers injured.
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In its decision of December 20, 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the waiver, signed by Charlene Johnson, a Cruise passenger, before injuring herself while using the on-board attraction Flowrider, was unenforceable, and the injured passenger was no longer barred from bringing her personal injury claim against the Cruise Line for its negligence.

07flowrider-surfing.jpgCharlene Johnson was a passenger on the Oasis of the Sea cruise ship owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise. Mrs. Johnson wanted to ride the Flowrider, a simulated surfing and body boarding activity located on the ship. Before Charlene Johnson, or any passenger, could ride the Flowrider, she was required to read and sign her name to an electronic “Onboard Activity Waiver”. By signing such waiver, Charlene Johnson agreed to waive her rights and release Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., and its employees from legal actions “arising from any accident or injury resulting from her participation in any and all of the shipboard activities she selected” (including the Flowrider). In other words, Charlene Johnson agreed to waive her rights to file a lawsuit against the cruise line and its employees should she injure herself while using the Flowrider.

After she signed the electronic waiver, Charlene received instructions on how to ride the Flowrider on a body board. The instructor who was supervising Charlene told her to stand on the body board, which was a clear deviation from the regular use of the body board and the cruise line’s policies. Royal’s safety guidelines for the Flowrider attraction clearly state that only the surfing boards can be stood upon, while the body boards should only be used while lying down. Upon receiving instruction to stand up on the body board, Charlene stood up and when the instructor let go of Charlene’s hand, she fell and fractured her ankle.

The Southern District of Florida dismisses Johnson’s case
A lawsuit was filed soon thereafter against Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. The cruise line moved for Summary Judgment arguing that Charlene Johnson had signed a waiver that precluded her from suing Royal and from recovering from her injuries. The plaintiff argued that Federal Statute 46 U.S.C. §30509, which prevents a shipowner from contracting away its liability for negligence, should apply to her case and render the waiver unenforceable to her claim. In a decision of March 18, 2011, Judge Moreno, Chief Judge in the Southern District of Florida, ultimately agreed with Royal’s argument and dismissed Charlene Johnson’s case. The Court determined that the case did not fall within the General Maritime Law and therefore the Federal Statute did not apply.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Reverses the Southern District’s Decision
After hearing the case on appeal, in a decision published on December 20, 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed with Charlene Johnson and reinstated her personal injury claim. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court for failing to look at the plain and unambiguous language of the statute and failed to apply it to the facts of this case. The Court of Appeals determined that the waiver at issue is a contract that limits the liability of the shipowner for personal injury or death caused by the negligence or fault of the owner or the owner’s employees or agents. Because the waiver in question contains no exception regarding the type of activity in which the passenger is participating when the injury occurs, the waiver is deemed invalid on its face under Federal Statute 46 U.S.C. §30509.

The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling clears the way for future cases where Plaintiffs signed a waiver to participate in an on-board activity. By rendering these waivers unenforceable, passengers, who sustain an injury because of the negligence of the shipowner or its employees, are no longer precluded from filing a lawsuit even if they have signed a waiver.
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