A Southern District of Florida judge has recently allowed a case concerning the death of a Carnival Cruise passenger to proceed to the jury. This case involves couple who were passengers onboard the Carnival Dream. The cruise was a round trip Mexican voyage leaving from and returning to New Orleans, Louisiana. On the day in question, the couple were served 22 alcoholic beverages by the cruise line over the course of twelve hours. Most of the drinks were Long Island Iced Teas which contained high amounts of alcohol. The couple attended dinner where the husband was inebriated but did not slur his words or stumble. After dinner the couple went to the ship’s casino. At the casino bar, the husband fell off the bar stool. About an hour after the fall in the casino bar, the couple bought a final round of drinks. The decision was made to go to the ship’s nightclub. The wife went into the club while the husband stayed behind to finish a cigarette. He never arrived at the club. He, instead, went back to the stateroom. At about 1:00 a.m., the husband fell off the cabin’s balcony onto a deck below. He died from his injuries.
The wife, as the personal representative of her husband’s estate, brought a negligence claim against Carnival Cruise Lines for its part in overserving alcoholic drinks which allegedly was the proximate cause of his death. The cruise line filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to find as a matter of law that it was not negligent. Under maritime law, a cruise line owes its passengers the duty of reasonable care for their safety and well being. As part of this legal duty cruise lines must take reasonable steps to protect an intoxicated passenger from danger. Cases addressing this legal duty require a showing that the cruise line should have been aware that the passenger was subject to an impending danger from the over-service of alcohol. As such, the behavior exhibited by the intoxicated passenger is relevant to whether a jury could find the cruise line was on notice.
The issue addressed in the motion is whether the husband’s actions leading up to his death placed Carnival on notice that he was at risk of falling off a cabin balcony. The wife argued that Carnival’s drink servers and bartenders training requires them to observe behavioral sings of intoxication which should have alerted the cruise line to the husband’s intoxication. The wife also testified at deposition that her husband showed visible signs of intoxication which included falling off a barstool. The cruise line pointed to the facts that the husband did not slur his words at dinner and disputed the reason for him falling off the stool.
The cruise line also argued that its legal duty was discharged once the husband returned to his cabin. As support of this argument, Carnival cited to the court land-based law. The court rejected this argument as marine law concerning the over-service of alcohol pre-empts state law concerning the same issue.
Based upon the conflicting evidence presented to the court, the judge found a jury can decide whether Carnival was sufficiently on notice of the husband’s intoxicated state which triggered to duty to undertake reasonable actions for his safety.
This is an interesting case as a main profit center for the cruise lines is alcohol sales. Over the years, there appears to be a tug a war in the cruise industry between increasing profits and passenger safety concerning alcohol. Cases such as this will serve a much needed precedent to insure ongoing the protection cruise passenger rights.