In Stewart-Patterson v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., a federal court in South Florida considers some of the legal theories under which a person injured in an accident on a cruise ship may sue for damages.
Plaintiff Elizabeth Stewart-Patterson was a passenger aboard a Celebrity cruise ship when she slipped on a wet spot on a staircase and fell, fracturing her ankle. She alleged that Celebrity required her to see a doctor in Colombia following the accident as a condition of her remaining on the boat for the rest of the cruise. This doctor, according to Plaintiff, misdiagnosed the injury, thereby slowing her recovery.
Stewart-Patterson sued Celebrity in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging: a) negligence in failing to safely maintain the staircase; b) negligent mode of operation in failing to reduce or eliminate the dangerous condition before the accident; and c) medical negligence in failing to use reasonable care by forcing her to see the Colombian doctor.
The Court denied Celebrity’s motion to dismiss the medical negligence claim, finding that Plaintiff adequately plead that the company failed to exercise reasonable care. Although cruise ships are generally not liable for the negligence of an on-board doctor, the Court explained that “when a carrier undertakes to employ a doctor aboard ship for its passengers’ convenience, the carrier has a duty to employ a doctor who is competent and duly qualified.”
The Court ruled that this duty may also extend to claims regarding the ship doctor’s decision referring a passenger to a shore-side doctor. The Court noted that Plaintiff alleged that Celebrity required her to see the doctor, sign a liability waiver, or leave the ship. “Based on these allegations, Plaintiff has adequately pleaded that Defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in choosing the Colombian doctor and thus is liable for any injuries resulting from that decision.”
Nevertheless, the Court dismissed the negligent mode of operation claim. This legal theory provides that, in certain circumstances, “the duty to exercise reasonable care may extend to taking actions to reduce, minimize, or eliminate foreseeable risks before they manifest themselves as particular dangerous conditions on the premises,” the Court explained, citing the Florida Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Markowitz v. Helen Homes of Kendall Corp. Unlike a traditional negligence claim, one for negligent mode of operation looks at whether the business’ mode of operating led to the dangerous condition without considering whether the business knew or should have known about the condition before the accident.
The Court held that mode of operation liability does not apply in admiralty cases. Rather, “Defendant owed Plaintiff a general duty of reasonable care under the circumstances, and…Defendant’s liability for Plaintiff’s alleged injuries depends on whether Defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the particular slippery condition that caused Plaintiff to fall,” the Court ruled. As a result, the Court dismissed this claim.
A person injured on-board a cruise ship typically has a number of legal remedies available under state law. If you were injured on a cruise, the experienced South Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have successfully handled all types of cruise ship accident claims, recovering compensation for victims in Florida and elsewhere.
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