The Florida Court of Appeal for the Third District recently upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit related to a cruise accident, reasoning that Italy would be a more appropriate forum.The appeals court consolidated two cases – Abeid-Saba and Scimone II – brought by passengers aboard an Italian cruise ship, the Concordia. Both suits alleged that in January 2012, the Concordia’s captain deviated from the cruise’s planned course to perform a trick called a “bow.” During this maneuver, the Concordia struck an underwater reef, causing damage to the hull and requiring the evacuation of 3,206 passengers.
In Lugo v. Carnival Corp., a family of four departed on a cruise vacation in February 2015. While on board the ship, the two children slept on elevated bunk beds. In order to access the bunk beds, the children were required to utilize a removable ladder that did not fully reach the cabin floor. On the last night of the cruise, however, the father slept on one of the top bunks. In the morning, the father apparently fell head first off the ladder while attempting to climb down from the upper bunk in the dark.
According to the man, he lost consciousness as a result of his fall. The father apparently remained in the family’s cabin for some time before seeking treatment from the ship’s medical team. A ship physician ultimately diagnosed the man with a broken rib.
In Cordani v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., a man’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a cruise ship company and its medical staff after the man died of an illness he suffered while on board a passenger vessel. In a seven-count complaint, the estate sought damages from the company and the medical providers who treated the deceased man. In response to the lawsuit, the cruise company filed a motion to dismiss the estate’s negligence, negligent hiring and retention, and vicarious liability based on joint venture claims.
The Southern District of Florida first examined the legal standard related to a motion to dismiss that is filed with a federal court. The court stated a legal claim may not survive a motion to dismiss unless it alleges sufficient facts that, if taken as true and construed in favor of the non-moving party, support a plausible claim on its face.
In Pucci v. Carnival Corp., a woman set sail on a seven-day cruise with her family. While on board the ship, the woman purchased a snorkeling excursion that was marketed and sold on the vessel using brochures and television advertisements. The cruise ship company also marketed the excursion on its website. Despite the company’s sales efforts, the snorkeling excursion was operated by a third business which shared all profits and losses with the cruise company.
Prior to purchasing the snorkeling excursion, the woman apparently informed cruise ship employees that she was not a strong swimmer. Despite this, the workers reportedly assured the woman that she would remain safe during the event. After receiving the supposed assurances, the woman purchased a ticket for the snorkeling excursion.
In Pettit v. Carnival Corp., a cruise ship passenger was apparently hurt when she slipped while on board the vessel in September 2013. Prior to her departure, the woman completed a contract stating any future personal injury lawsuits filed against the cruise company must be brought within one year in the Southern District of Florida. About two weeks before the statute of limitations expired, the injured woman filed a negligence lawsuit against the owner of the ship in Miami-Dade County. In addition, the hurt passenger failed to serve the cruise company until November 2014.
On December 1, 2014, the vessel owner filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the forum selection clause included in the passenger contract. About two weeks later, the woman filed her complaint with the Southern District of Florida. In response, the cruise company asked the federal court to enter summary judgment in its favor, based on the expiration of the statute of limitations. The woman countered that the period should be equitably tolled, since genuine issues of fact were in dispute.
In Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., a woman was allegedly injured in 2012 when she slipped and fell on a cruise ship deck that was wet from the rain. As a result, the woman and her husband sued the owner of the vessel for damages. In their complaint, the couple accused the cruise company of committing negligence under general maritime law. Under this theory of liability, the owner of a vessel operating on navigable waters owes passengers a duty of reasonable care. In order to demonstrate a cruise ship company committed negligence, an injured plaintiff must demonstrate the company had a duty to protect the plaintiff from a specific injury, the company breached that duty, the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s harm, and the plaintiff incurred actual damages.
In support of their claim, the plaintiffs offered expert testimony regarding “the degree of slip resistance” on the ship deck. After that, the cruise ship company asked the trial court to strike the expert evidence from the record and issue summary judgment in the company’s favor. The court granted the vessel owner’s motions, and the couple filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Tarasewicz v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., a welder and pipefitter who was a Polish national suffered an ischemic stroke while working aboard a cruise ship off the coast of Florida. Although the man was apparently misdiagnosed initially, he was later removed from the ship and treated at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.
Less than two years later, the man and his wife filed a lawsuit against the owner of the vessel, the ship’s captain, and others in the Southern District of Florida. According to the couple’s complaint, the Polish man suffered the stroke as a direct result of the unsafe working conditions aboard the cruise ship. Because of this, the man asked the court to award him damages for negligence, breach of implied warranty, negligence under the Jones Act, failure to provide maintenance and cure, and other claims. In response, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the man’s lawsuit because it was filed in an improper forum. According to the defendants, the United States court lacked admiralty jurisdiction.
In Gittel v. Carnival Corp., the parents of a child who allegedly suffered an injury while traveling aboard a cruise ship filed a negligence action against the company that operated the vessel in the Southern District of Florida. In their complaint, the plaintiffs asserted that the child was hurt when she collided with a pointed edge that protruded into a ship passageway. In response to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, the cruise ship company filed a motion to dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). In order to survive such a motion, a complaint is required to contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
The federal court first examined the plaintiffs’ claim that the cruise ship operator committed negligence. The court stated it was required to rely on general negligence principles when examining a maritime tort case such as the one before it. In order to demonstrate negligence, a plaintiff must allege the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, the defendant breached that duty, and the plaintiff suffered harm as a direct result of that breach. After examining the language included in the plaintiffs’ complaint, the Southern District of Florida refused to dismiss the case with regard to the general negligence allegations.
In Wolf v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., a man apparently suffered an injury while participating in a shore excursion during a cruise to Costa Rica. The man’s wife purchased the cruise ticket from a travel agent before the couple’s departure. Prior to boarding the cruise ship, the man signed a contract acknowledging that any companies offering shore excursions to him while aboard the vessel were independent contractors. The contract also stated the passenger agreed to participate in any on-shore activities at his own risk.
After departing from the cruise terminal, the man purchased a zip-line shore excursion from the Shore Excursion Desk that was located aboard the ship. The ticket stated the excursion would be operated by a third party that was an independent contractor. It also said the owner of the cruise ship would not be held liable for any injuries sustained by a passenger who elected to participate in the activity. In addition, the man signed a waiver that released the cruise company of all liability associated with the shore excursion.
In Poole v. Carnival Corp., a woman was allegedly injured while traveling aboard a cruise ship. According to the woman, she suffered serious harm when she walked into a glass door. Although the woman claimed she did not know if the door she walked into had a frame on it, a handle installed, or a sticker strip to increase visibility, the woman admitted that the area where she was hurt was well lit. A representative for the ship’s owner offered testimony that the glass door at issue had a metal handle and door frame installed. In addition, the representative claimed the door also included a sign that read “push” and a sticker strip across the width of the door installed at waist level. The cruise ship security officer who investigated the woman’s injury accident also stated there was a sticker strip installed in the middle of the door at the time of the incident.