A Florida judge has recently ruled that a passenger who sustained a burn during a Carnival cruise may present her claim to a jury over the cruise line’s motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit.
In October 2016, a passenger boarded the Carnival cruise ship Carnival Breeze. During the second night of the cruise she sat down for dinner in the cruise ship’s Blush dining hall. At the dinner table were other guests, one of whom, brought maracas. Carnival did not distribute maracas that evening; nor did it host a themed event that would involve the use of maracas. However, during the dinner, waiters in the Blush dining hall participated in a singing and dancing event called “Show Time.” During the dinner, the passenger ordered hot tea. The head waiter filled a teapot designed with a non-locking, non-sealing hinged lid with hot water from water dispensing machine. The head waiter returned to table with the teapot in hand. As the head waiter approached the table, the guest shaking her maraca hit his hand causing the teapot to fall the saucer and spill hot water onto the passenger’s chest, right shoulder, and right arm. The passenger suffered severe injuries including second degree burns on her right chest, breast, and upper and lower right arm.
The Passenger’s Negligence Lawsuit
The passenger filed a negligence lawsuit against Carnival claiming the burns left her with permanent scarring and disfigurement. She argued that Carnival was negligent in the manner, method, and mode of serving her hot water for tea. The passenger maintained Carnival breached its duty to exercise reasonable care by avoiding actions that foreseeably could cause injury to passengers, and contended that the head waiter failed to properly secure the tea pot such that it would not pour hot water onto passengers. According to the Claimant, the average cruise line exercising reasonable care under the circumstances would have taken additional precautions to avoid the type of that caused her injuries. Specifically, she alleged that “[h]ad [the head waiter] held the teapot by the handle, and not by the saucer, it would have prevented the teapot from falling off the saucer and dumping the water on to [her].” Therefore, the passenger concluded that Carnival’s breach directly and proximately caused her injuries.
The Cruise Line’s Motion for Summary Judgment
Carnival filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it cannot be held liable under the facts of the case. For a motion for summary judgment to prevail, Carnival was required to show there are no dispute of material facts and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In contending that it not liable for the passenger’s burns, Carnival focused on the conduct of the guest who shook the maraca which hit the head waiter’s hand. The cruise line argued that this was an unforeseeable intervening force, and the guest’s actions—not those of the head waiter—was the cause of the burn. According to Carnival, “[i]t is purely speculation, and otherwise impossible, for [the passenger] to assert that a different model teapot, or holding the teapot with two hands instead of one, or holding the teapot by its handle, or even serving the hot water at lower temperatures would have not harmed or injured [her].”
The Court’s Decision
The court rejected Carnival’s argument because factual issues prevented summary judgment. The judge explained that although the cruise line and the passenger agree about many of the events preceding the burn, there were different statements of facts regarding temperature of the hot water when served, the wait staff’s training, and the position of the hands of the guest shaking the maraca as the head waiter approached the table. The judge found that if the jury believes the passenger’s version of the facts, it would offer substantial support for her negligent claim against Carnival.