The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reached a rather controversial opinion last month in the case of Pizzino v. NCL (Bah.) Ltd., 2017 U.S. App. (2017), where it essentially endorsed the position that even if a cruise line employee creates a hazardous condition resulting in an accident, the plaintiff must prove actual or constructive notice in order to receive compensation for resultant injuries.
In the case, an employee of the cruise ship was engaging in his duties that required him to mop the area within a coffee bar area. He transported two buckets, one filled with a water and bleach solution, and another with clean water (presumably to cleanse the area following the bleach). On the evening of the incident, although the employee testified that he did not spill the water nor see it spilled, the plaintiff’s husband testified that the surveillance footage of the area seemed to indicate that one of the buckets tilted and collided with the employee’s knee, perhaps spilling the water. There was no evidence mentioned in the appeal that anyone else may have spilled water.
Shortly after the employee had retrieved the buckets of water, the plaintiff slipped and fell forward sustaining several injuries including broken wrists. Though she did not see any water prior to her fall, after the incident she noticed that there were four to six inch puddles of water on the floor. There was no wet floor sign present at the scene.
The woman then filed suit against the cruise line, alleging that it had negligently created and failed to eliminate a hazardous condition which was the proximate cause of the injuries she sustained.
At trial, the court allowed the following jury instructions:
To recover for injuries sustained in her fall, the plaintiff must prove either,
first, that Norwegian had actual notice of the alleged risk-creating condition of which she
complains or, alternatively, the second part, that the dangerous condition existed for such a
length of time that in the exercise of ordinary care Norwegian should have known of it.
The plaintiff had requested the following additional instruction:
Where a cruise ship operator created the unsafe or foreseeably hazardous condition, a
plaintiff need not prove notice in order to prove negligence.
The district court denied her request. The jury subsequently returned a verdict for Norwegian. The plaintiff thus appealed the district court’s failure to give her requested jury instruction.
The appellate court’s decision to affirm the district court’s exclusion of the additional instruction focused on the notice requirement of the dangerous or hazardous condition.
What is incredibly confusing about the opinion is the supposed affirmation that the cruise line did not have notice of the dangerous condition. It appears from the facts that water was spilled upon the floor where the plaintiff fell. As the employee was lugging the water from one location to another, where he was then going to engage in mopping, the only tenable defense seems to be that some intervening third party spilled the water, which could thus potentially remove the cruise line from liability but for the notice or constructive notice element. However, as mentioned above, there was nothing mentioned in the case regarding any other actors spilling the water.
Here, assuming that the employee did spill the water, even if the employee was not aware, he was in fact an agent of the cruise line that created the danger, albeit inadvertently. It is mind boggling to consider that a cruise line would have to establish some sort of additional notice or constructive notice when it was the responsible causal factor in creating a hazardous condition.
Following the logic of the case, the employee could have cut a hole in the bottom of the ship that resulted in the plaintiff falling into the ocean, but the plaintiff could not recover unless she could prove that the cruise line had notice. This flies in the face of the premise of respondeat superior or let the superior answer (for the negligent actions of its agent).
The more reasonable interpretation of the court’s decision is probably that because the employee did not realize that he spilled the water, he was not put on notice. However, the fact remains that the plaintiff in the case suffered serious injuries due to the employee’s actions, and because of the decision no one is being held accountable. Considering the purpose of negligence and premises liability law, the decision does not seem like the best outcome for public policy reasons, especially considering cruise ships are in the best position to ensure the safety of the passengers which they are transporting to various locations around the world.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to a cruise line’s potential negligence, allow our experienced Miami cruise ship attorneys to help your family pursue fair and just compensation. The personal injury law offices of Gerson & Schwartz, PA a law firm in Miami specializes in these types cases. Contact us today for a free case consultation. We can be reached at 877-475-2905.
Pleasure cruise sails into nausea and near-mutiny, Cruise Ship Accident Lawyer Blog, published September 26, 2017
Teenagers are victims in shipboard assaults, Cruise Ship Accident Lawyer Blog, published July 31, 2017