Slip and fall accidents occur with regularity on cruise ships. One defense that all the major cruise lines assert in such claims is that they did not have the requisite notice that the deck was wet and slippery.
The Notice Defense
In slip and fall cases, the mere fact that an accident occurred or that the deck was slick dose not automatically make the cruise line liable for a passenger’s injuries. Where a deck becomes wet due to weather or spills caused by non-crewmembers, maritime law requires the injured plaintiff to prove that the cruise line either had notice of the risk-creating condition. Notice comes in two varieties, “actual” and “constructive” “Actual notice” is when the defendant knows of the risk-creating condition. “Constructive notice” is when it could be shown that the dangerous condition has existed for such a period of time that a reasonable shipowner would have known the condition was present. A recent case from the Southern District of Florida exemplifies how an injured passenger can prove a cruise line was on notice of a slippery deck.
Facts of the Case
In this case, a passenger and her husband took a vacation aboard the Oceania Cruise line’s Ocean Riviera cruise ship. It had rained that morning and the couple walked underneath a covered section of the perimeter of the ship’s outside pool deck. They re-entered the interior of the ship through an outward opening door. The cruise line placed a “CAUTION Wet Floor” sign approximately three feet from the door. Just past the door’s threshold, a floor mat was placed on the granite deck surface which spanned the width of the corridor. As the wife stepped off the mat onto the granite, her right foot slipped forward causing her to fall. The fall resulted in personal injuries. The passenger filed a negligence claim against Oceania alleging, among other things, that the floor was unreasonably slippery and that the cruise line was on notice of the hazardous condition yet did nothing to make the area reasonably safe.
The Cruise Line’s Motion for Summary Judgment
Oceania filed a motion asking the court to grant summary judgment in its favor on the notice defense. The cruise line argued that it is entitled to a ruling of no liability as the injured passenger has no evidence to support the allegation that the company had either actual or constructive notice of the unreasonably slippery condition. The injured passenger argued that the mere placement of the “CAUTION Wet Floor” sign near the door is evidence alone that the cruise line had actual notice of the wet and slippery condition. The court agreed with the passenger’s argument and found that the placement of the warning sign is sufficient evidence for a jury to later determine whether the cruise line was on notice that the floor was unreasonably slippery.
Import of the Case
Our law firm has litigated several cruise ship slip and fall cases over the years. This case demonstrates that the success or failure of such a claim depends upon the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident. When gathering evidence to prove a negligence claim, it is imperative that due attention is given to how the plaintiff will prove the cruise line had notice of the hazardous condition. Failure to gather this evidence will likely result in the court finding no liability on the cruise line’s part.