Res ipsa loquitur is a well-established legal doctrine that can come in handy for plaintiffs in a wide variety of injury cases, including those related to accidents at sea. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida explains the doctrine in Gandhi v. Carnival.
Mr. and Ms. Gandhi sued the Carnival cruise company, alleging that their daughter was injured when her arm got caught in an elevator door while the family were passengers aboard a Carnival ship. Among other injuries, they said their daughter sustained a severe laceration and fracture as a result of the incident. Alleging claims for negligence, the Gandhis referenced the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and argued that it applied to the claims.
But the Court said it was premature to reference the doctrine at this stage in the litigation. “The Supreme Court has developed a law of res ipsa loquitur in admiralty that permits the trier of fact to draw inferences of negligence from unexplained circumstances,” the Court explained, quoting the 1986 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Larkins v. Farrell lines Co. In order to invoke the doctrine, the Court said a plaintiff must show that the event at issue is the kind that doesn’t usually happen without someone’s negligence, that the instrumentality that caused the accident was in the defendant’s “exclusive control” at the time and that the accident wasn’t caused by any “voluntary action or contribution” by the injured party.
The court clarified that res ipsa loquitur is not an actual legal claim on which it can grant relief, but instead is “an evidentiary doctrine that permits the trier of fact to infer negligence from circumstantial evidence.” Here, the Court said the Gandhis wrongly characterized their negligence claims as being based on res ipsa loquitur. Instead, the Court said, they should have simply plead a standard negligence claim: that Carnival owed them a duty of care while aboard the ship, that the company failed to meet this duty and that the failure caused their daughter’s injuries. The Court granted the company’s motion to strike all references to the res ipsa loquitur doctrine in the family’s complaint. It further stated, however, that it would reserve judgment as to whether the jury should eventually be instructed about the doctrine during trial.
The Court also took the opportunity to dismiss a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim in which the family argued that Mr. Gandhi had suffered distress as a result of witnessing the accident. The Court explained that such claims may only be plead where the person allegedly suffering the distress was either also physically harmed or put at substantial risk of such harm.
A person injured on-board a cruise ship typically has a number of legal remedies available under federal and state law. The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine take pride in responsive, diligent and cost-effective representation. The firm’s client-centered approach, combined with vast personal injury experience, will help you to safely and confidently navigate the judicial system’s waters after an accident at sea or on land. If you or a loved one were involved injured in an accident, please take advantage of a free consultation by contacting the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices at (800) 747-3733, or submitting an on-line “Contact Us” form.
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