South Florida Federal Court Rules Cruise Operator Had No Duty To Warn Passenger About Open and Obvious Hazards

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.

About two months after the cruise vacation ended, the father filed a negligence lawsuit against the owner of the ship in the Southern District of Florida. In his complaint, the man accused the company of failing to warn him about the hazardous condition caused by the short ladder, failing to remedy the purportedly dangerous condition, and failing to provide its crew members with adequate training and supervision with regard to avoiding such dangers. In response to the father’s lawsuit, the cruise company filed a motion for summary judgment.

In general, a motion for summary judgment asks a court to rule that no material facts are in dispute and that one party to a lawsuit is entitled to prevail as a matter of law without proceeding to trial. When considering such a motion, a court is required to view the information included in the record in the light that is most favorable to the non-moving party. In addition, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating that no material facts are in dispute.

First, the Southern District noted that the father’s reply to the cruise company’s motion failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1(a) because it lacked any citations to the record that was before the court. Next, the federal court stated the case was governed by general maritime law. In order to establish negligence under maritime law, an injured plaintiff must show the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and the plaintiff suffered actual harm. If an injured party cannot demonstrate each required element, his or her claim must be dismissed.

The ship owner claimed that it had no duty to warn the father about the dangers associated with using the bunk bed ladder because they were open and obvious. In the alternative, the cruise company argued the father provided no evidence that the vessel owner had constructive notice regarding the purportedly dangerous condition created by the ladder.

The court stated it was well established that a cruise ship company owes all passengers a duty of reasonable care based on the circumstances. This includes a duty to warn them about hazards the ship operator knew or should have known about that were not readily apparent to a passenger. Despite this, the Florida court stated there was no duty to warn passengers about open and obvious dangers. Since it was undisputed that the father spent several nights in the ship cabin and could see that the ladder at issue did not reach the floor, the federal court held that the cruise company did not breach its duty to warn the man about the allegedly dangerous condition.

After stating the father’s injuries were unfortunate, the Southern District of Florida ruled that the hazard was open and obvious, and the company owed the father no duty to warn. Finally, the Florida court granted the cruise operator’s motion for summary judgment.

If you were injured while traveling as a cruise ship passenger, you should contact a dedicated personal injury attorney as soon as you are able.  To discuss your right to recover damages with a hardworking South Florida personal injury lawyer, call the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website today.

Additional Resources:

Lugo v. Carnival Corp., Dist. Court, SD Florida 2015

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