Florida Court Takes on Bahamian Food Poisoning Case – Howard v. Kerzner

As our society becomes increasingly mobile, it’s likely that courts will be tasked more frequently to resolve legal disputes among parties in different states. The decision on which state’s laws apply to a given case is an important one. As the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida explains in Howard v. Kerzner, it can even make or break the case.

Ms. Howard, who lives in North Carolina, sued Kerzner International Limited, alleging that she suffered food poisoning while dining at the Mesa Grill during her stay at Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Specifically, she claimed that the restaurant served her fish containing ciguatoxins, which the court said are natural toxins found in tropical fish and can cause food poisoning-like symptoms when consumed. Kerzner, a Bahamas-based company, owns and operates the resort and Kerzner asserted that its employees caught and prepared the fish. She alleged claims for strict products liability, and breach of express and implied warranties.

The District Court began by explaining that Bahamian law applies to the case, even though it was proceeding in Florida. “Unless another state has a more significant relationship, the local law of the state where the injury occurred determines the rights and liabilities of the parties.” The Court wrote, quoting the State Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in Bishop v. Florida Specialty Paint Company.

Here, the Court said the facts weighed heavily in favor of applying Bahamian law. It noted that Howard’s alleged injury happened in the Bahamas and was allegedly caused by conduct that also occurred there. “Plaintiff’s claim arises entirely from her stay at Defendants’ resort in The Bahamas and all individuals involved in the catching of the fish, storage of the fish, provision of the fish, purchase of the fish, cooking of the fish or service of the fish are Bahamians,” the Court said. The relationship between the parties was also centered in the Bahamas and the place of business where it arose – the resort – was located there.

The Court therefore dismissed the breach of express and implied warranties claims, finding that the Bahamas does not recognize these causes of action. Indeed, the Court noted that Howard cited only Florida statutes in support of these claims and said those laws were clearly not mean to be applied extraterritorially.

The Court declined to dismiss Howard’s strict products liability claim, however, finding that it was still unclear whether Bahamian law recognized such a claim. It said the burden was on Kerzner, as the party seeking dismissal, to clearly establish that the claim wasn’t recognized in the Bahamas and that the company failed to do so. “Defendants have failed to cite Bahamian case law or statutes so as to satisfactorily apprise the Court of what Bahamian law will apply,” the Court concluded.

If you have been hurt due to another person or entity’s negligence, contact the experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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