Florida Court Rules on Premises Liability and Medical Negligence Claims Against Celebrity Cruises
A Florida federal court dismissed one cause of action in a passenger's lawsuit against a cruise line, but allowed two other causes of action to proceed. The plaintiff in Stewart-Patterson v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc. alleged that the cruise line was liable for her slip-and-fall accident aboard the ship, as well as for injuries caused by a doctor that ship personnel compelled her to see while the ship was docked in Colombia. The court dismissed one of the plaintiff’s two causes of action for premises liability, but denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss her cause of action for medical negligence.
The plaintiff allegedly slipped on a wet substance while descending a staircase aboard a cruise liner owned by Celebrity Cruises. She claimed in her lawsuit that the fall caused her to fracture her left ankle. She received treatment in the ship’s infirmary, but was sent ashore for an orthopedic consultation with a doctor in Colombia. She alleges that ship personnel told her she had to undergo the consultation in order to remain on the cruise. Her alternatives, she claims, were to sign a full release of liability with the cruise line or find another way home. The Colombian doctor allegedly misdiagnosed her injury, which aggravated her condition and caused further damage.
The plaintiff filed suit against Celebrity Cruises in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. She asserted three causes of action: a negligence claim based on premises liability; negligent mode of operation, claiming that the defendant breached a duty to repair the dangerous condition before an accident took place; and medical negligence, for what she characterized as the defendant’s poor choice of a doctor in Colombia. The defendant moved to dismiss the second and third causes of action, arguing that the negligent mode of operation claim was not recognized by admiralty law and was duplicative of her other negligence claim, and that it could not be held vicariously liable for the actions of the Colombian doctor.
The court noted that federal admiralty law governed the case, because the plaintiff’s injuries occurred on a ship in navigable waters. It could consider Florida state law, however, if established admiralty law did not address a particular question. The court found that Florida state law recognizes a claim for negligent mode of operation in cases of property owners failing to maintain their premises free of foreseeable dangers. The cause of action applies to the creation of the hazard itself, so an owner’s actual or constructive knowledge is not relevant. The court dismissed this cause of action for two reasons. First, Florida state law is unclear on the question of whether it can apply in slip-and-fall cases, where the hazardous condition is usually a “transitory substance” like water and the question of actual or constructive knowledge remains critical. Second, existing law established the cruise line’s duty of reasonable care towards plaintiff, provided it had actual or constructive knowledge of a hazard.
On the question of medical negligence, the court agreed that the defendant could not be held vicariously liable for the doctor’s alleged error. However, it found that, because the plaintiff did not have a viable alternative to the Colombian doctor, she could claim that the defendant was negligent in failing to choose a doctor with reasonable care.
The premises liability attorneys at Cohn & Smith help recover compensation for people in South Florida who have suffered injuries due to hazardous conditions on someone’s property. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online, at (954) 431-8100, or at (305) 624-9186.
More Blog Posts:
Seaman's Lawsuit for Maritime Injuries Dismissed Upon Cruise Line's 12(b)(6) Motion, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, September 20, 2012
Premises Liability Claim Leads to Insurance Dispute, Shifting Jurisdiction Between Florida State and Federal Courts, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, September 18, 2012
Slip and Fall at the Food Court, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, June 4, 2012