The Southern District of Florida has ruled that a cruise passenger trip and fall accident case can proceed to trial over a motion filed by Celebrity Cruises to dismiss the case. In this case, a passenger aboard the Celebrity Summit was walking towards the front of the ship through the Rendezvous Lounge after the mandatory muster drill. While passenger turned the corner to exit the lounge, he tripped and fell to the floor. The passenger claimed that the base of a small table caused his fall. The trip and fall accident resulted in a shoulder injury.
The passenger filed a lawsuit in the Miami division of the Southern District of Florida alleging the table was negligently designed, Celebrity created a hazardous condition by removing chairs from the table thereby exposing the pertruding table base in close proximity to the walkway and Celebrity failed to warn him of the hidden danger. Celebrity filed a motion for summary judgment seeking the federal court to dismiss the case arguing that the cruise line did not design the table, the cruise line did not have notice of the alleged hazardous condition, the alleged hazardous condition was open and obvious, and the alleged negligence was not the proximate cause of the cruise passenger’s trip and fall accident. In a well written order, the court found that while the passenger did not present evidence to establish a claim for negligent design, he did present enough evidence for his personal injury case to proceed to trial on the other claims.
Establishing a Trip and Fall Accident Case Against a Cruise Line
In order to establish a trip and fall injury claim against a cruise line, a passenger must prove: (1) the cruise line was negligent, therefore, creating a dangerous condition; (2) the negligence was the proximate cause of the accident; and, (3) damages were suffered as a result of the accident. Celebrity in this case argued that the table was not dangerous. The passenger, however, produced photographs showing the table’s square base extended beyond the round table top and that the corner of the base pointed towards the walkway where he was walking when he tripped and fell. The passenger also presented evidence that the table normally had chairs placed under it which would have covered the protruding base but the cruise line removed the chairs for the muster drill. Finally, the passenger testified that the Rendezvous Lounge was dimly lit which caused the table base to blend in with the floor. The court found this evidence was sufficient for a trial to determine whether the cruise line was in fact negligent.
Celebrity next argued that it did not have notice of the alleged hazardous condition and therefore could not be liable. In cases involving a transitory hazard which the cruise line did not have a hand in creating, the passenger is required to prove that the cruise line knew of the hazard or the hazard existed for a significant amount of time to place the cruise line on notice. However, if the cruise line, by its own actions, created the hazard, the passenger does not need to prove notice. The passenger alleged Celebrity’s action of removing the chairs for the muster drill crated the hazardous condition thereby relieving the requirement of having to prove notice. The Court agreed and found that notice need not be proven.
The cruise line also argued that the table base was open and obvious thereby extinguishing its duty to warn of the alleged danger. The court disagreed with this argument based upon the testimony that the dim lighting of the Rendezvous Lounge concealed the protruding table base.
Finally, Celebrity argued that the table base was not the proximate cause of the trip and fall accident. The court rejected this argument finding that evidence of the dim lighting in combination with the base protruding beyond the table top and pointing in the direction of the walkway was enough to make proximate cause an issue to be resolved at trial.
Import of the Case
This case highlights the importance of gathering evidence near the time of the trip and fall accident so that it could be presented to the court for the purpose of establishing that the case has merit and should proceed to trial.