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Florida Federal Court Allows Jury to Decide Case Cruise Excursion Personal Injury Case

March 3, 2017 Cruise Ship Passenger Injury Law

This case concerns a passenger who participated in a seven-day cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship.  The passenger booked a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean to Dunn’s River Falls while the ship called on Jamaica.  The local guide was employed by the excursion company told the passengers to hold hands while ascending the falls. Unfortunately, the passenger slipped and fell when a girl whose hand he was holding slipped.  The fall resulted in the passenger fracturing his leg and sustaining other injuries.

The passenger filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida alleging that he was instructed by the tour guides at Dunn’s River Falls to hold hands with the other hikers and that he fell because the girl whose hand he was holding slipped. He claimed that Royal Caribbean was liable for the accident because  the cruise line either knew about or should have reasonably foreseen the danger associated with having passengers hold hands as they climbed Dunn’s River Falls and should have warned him about this danger.

In response to the passenger’s claim, Royal Caribbean filed a motion requesting that the Court dismiss the lawsuit arguing that: (1) the dangers associated with Dunn’s River Falls are open and obvious; (2)  there is no evidence that the practice of handholding caused fall; and (3) even if handholding caused the fall, there is no evidence that the cruise line knew or should have known that handholding was a dangerous practice. The passenger countered Royal Caribbean’s motion by pointing to evidence that the cause of his fall was a result of the handholding policy and submitted affidavits showing the cruise line’s employees knew the handholding policy posed a danger to its passengers.

In decided the motion, the Court forced its analysis on the elements an injured passenger must prove to prevail on a negligence against a cruise line based upon the failure to warn. Those elements are: 1) the cruise line owed a legal duty to the passenger; (2) the cruise line breached that duty; (3) the breach was the proximate cause of the injury; and (4) the passenger suffered damages as a result of the injury. The Court found that the law is well established that cruise lines owe their passengers a duty to warn of known or foreseeable damages where the hazard is encounter on land and is not clearly liked to nautical adventure. The Court also pointed out that the cruise line’s duty to warn extends only to specific, known dangers particular to the places where passengers are invited or reasonably expected to visit and does not extend to hazards which are open and obvious.

Applying the facts to the law, the Court commended that if the passenger had simply identified climbing Dunn’s River Falls as the sole danger he faced, it would have had little trouble concluding that scaling a waterfall is an open and obvious danger as a matter of law. However, since the passenger identified the rule imposed by the local guides at Dunn’s River Falls that climbers must hold hands while hiking up the waterfall as the hazardous condition, the Court found that it could not find as a matter of law that such a rule was open and obvious because that would not be common knowledge for passengers. Since the Court could not find as a matter of law that the “handholding rule” posed an open and obvious danger to passengers, it allowed the issue to be decided by a jury.

The Court also found that the cruise line was not entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on the knowledge prong of the passenger’s failure to warn claim because there was evidence presented that the handholding rule caused the fall and that Royal Caribbean had actual knowledge that other passengers were injured at Dunn’s River Falls because of handholding rule. Because evidence was presented that the practice of handholding was dangerous and that Royal Caribbean had actual knowledge of the danger, the Court found that Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim can proceed to trial.

Cases like this help explain which accident claims are legally viable and which ones are not. As articulated by the Court, if an accident occurred by simply slipping on a wet path near a waterfall, the claim would like be dismissed as wet paths near waterfalls are common and obvious to a reasonable person. However, in cases where something more than a regularly encountered environmental condition that caused the accident which is known to the cruise line but would not be known to the reasonable person, courts are more likely to allow the case to be presented to a jury.