Southern District of Florida Refuses to Dismiss Negligence Claims Against Cruise Ship Over Shore Excursion Accident

In Ash v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 28 cruise ship passengers were reportedly injured in a bus crash in St. Maarten. Prior to the accident, each individual purchased tickets for a related excursion from a St. Maarten tour provider that contracted with the cruise ship company. The tour provider then contracted with the bus company to offer transportation between the ship and the onshore excursion for the passengers.

Following the bus accident, the injured passengers filed a lawsuit against the cruise ship owner, tour operator, and bus company in the Southern District of Florida’s admiralty court. In their complaint, the passengers accused the defendants of committing negligence and asserted several other related claims. The Florida court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against the foreign bus company for lack of personal jurisdiction, and the passengers filed an amended complaint. After that, the remaining defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit with the federal court. According to the two companies, the cruise ship passengers failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

The court said such a motion attacks the allegations included in a plaintiff’s complaint. When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court must accept everything in the pleading as true and consider the allegations asserted in the light that is most favorable to the non-moving party. In order to survive such a motion, the court stated, a complaint must include a plain declaration that provides a defendant with notice regarding the allegations and the basis upon which the plaintiff is entitled to relief.  In general, a plaintiff is not required to plead specific facts in his or her complaint. The court also added that a complaint must allege enough facts to support a reasonable inference that the plaintiff’s claim is plausible. Next, the Florida court examined the passengers’ complaint.

First, the court held that the cruise ship passengers successfully alleged a maritime negligence claim against the two defendants. The defendants owed the passengers a duty, the defendants breached that duty, the breach proximately caused the passengers’ harm, and the passengers suffered damages as a result.

After that, the federal court held that the passengers’ failure to warn claim was properly pleaded. The court said the roadway dangers could not have been obvious or apparent because the passengers did not have the opportunity to see the allegedly dangerous road prior to purchasing their excursion. Since the cruise ship passengers claimed that the companies had a duty to warn them regarding the purported danger and failed to do so, the court said the claim asserted was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Next, the court refused to dismiss the passengers’ claim that the tour company failed to provide a competent bus driver. The court said that, although evidence offered at trial may not be enough to support liability, the passengers’ allegations that the tour company breached its duty to provide them with a capable driver and that the breach directly resulted in the passengers’ harm was enough to survive the defendants’ motion.

The Southern District of Florida next held that the passengers’ apparent agency claim would not be dismissed. The federal court stated the plaintiffs’ claim merely offered an alternative theory under which the cruise ship owner may be held liable for the tour company’s allegedly negligent actions. The court said the passengers successfully pleaded the three elements required to show apparent agency. The cruise ship owner caused the passengers to believe the tour company had the authority to act on its behalf, the passengers’ belief was reasonable, and they were harmed as a result of acting on that belief. Similarly, the Florida court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the passengers’ joint venture negligence claim.

Finally, the Southern District of Florida held that the passengers failed to state a claim with regard to their third-party beneficiary allegation. According to the court, the cruise ship passengers’ amended complaint failed because it did not allege that a contract was formed between the defendants for the passengers’ primary and direct benefit. Because of this, the Southern District of Florida granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the third-party beneficiary cause of action and stated the passengers could amend their complaint as long as they provided additional facts to support their allegations.

If you were injured on a cruise ship, a knowledgeable personal injury attorney may be able to help. To schedule a free consultation with a capable cruise ship accident lawyer today, feel free to give the caring personal injury advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Ash v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Dist. Court, SD Florida 2014

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