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Florida Court Addresses Plaintiff’s Evidentiary Burden in Lawsuit Against Cruise Line

Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion in a plaintiff’s negligence lawsuit against a cruise ship company. The lawsuit stems from injuries a woman suffered when she sat on a vanity chair while in her cabin on the cruise ship. When she sat down, the chair collapsed and caused her to fall to the ground. The woman sought medical attention at the cruise ship’s medical center, where she was given Tylenol for her pain. When she returned home, she sought treatment for continued pain she was suffering. Although she did not have a broken arm, she was diagnosed with tennis elbow.

The woman filed a lawsuit against the cruise company for their failure to inspect and maintain the cabin furniture, and their failure to warn her of the chair’s danger. She claimed that she did not need to meet the law’s notice requirement based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

The woman appealed after the lower courts ruled in favor of the defendants based on the woman’s failure to meet her evidentiary burden. The court discussed notice requirements in Florida personal injury lawsuits. The plaintiff argued that the cruise ship had constructive notice that the chair was dangerous, and even if she failed to establish notice, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur negated the requirement.

In Florida, maritime law governs claims arising from torts committed aboard a ship sailing in navigable waters. Generally, cruise lines are not liable to passengers as insurers, but instead, companies are responsible for their negligence. Therefore, cruise passenger plaintiffs must prove that the defendant had a duty to protect the passenger from the injury, the company breached the duty, and the breach resulted in the plaintiff’s actual injury and harm. To succeed on a claim, plaintiffs must establish that the cruise ship operator knew or should have known about the dangerous condition. Plaintiffs can meet this element by establishing that the defective condition lasted for a sufficient amount of time or that there was substantial evidence of similar incidents. In this case, the court reasoned that the plaintiff’s evidence failed to prove that the company was on notice that the chair was dangerous. Further, there was a lack of evidence showing that there were previous similar incidents involving the cabin chairs.

The court also addressed the plaintiff’s res ipsa loquitur claim, which allows a trier of fact to infer negligence from an unexplained circumstance. In res ipsa loquitor cases, a plaintiff must show that they were not at fault, the instrumentality causing injury was under the exclusive control of the defendant, and the type of injury does not usually occur without negligence. However, plaintiffs who rely on this doctrine still possess the burden of proving that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. Further, because notice is a key element of duty, passengers relying on this doctrine must show that the defendant knew of the condition causing the plaintiff’s injury. Therefore, the court ultimately found in favor of the defendant because the plaintiff failed to meet her burden.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Florida Accident?

If you or someone you love has suffered serious injuries in a Florida cruise ship accident, contact the experienced attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada. The Miami injury attorneys at our law firm have over forty years of experience successfully representing accident victims. Our attorneys handle various injury claims, such as those stemming from car accidents, truck accidents, boating accidents, workplace injuries, and medical malpractice claims. Contact our office at 877-448-8585 to discuss your rights to compensation in these cases.

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