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Personal Injury · Wrongful Death · Medical Malpractice

Eleventh Circuit Court Of Appeals Rules In Favor Of Passenger On Cruise Ship

A panel sitting for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in favor of a plaintiff in a slip-and-fall case filed against a cruise line. Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) LTD, 13-1585 (11th Cir. 2015) was filed by a woman named Teresita Sorrels who slipped and fell on a ship owned by NCL, Norwegian Sky. At the time she slipped, the pool deck was wet because it had rained. Ms. Sorrels fractured her wrist, and she filed her lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of NCL and seeking damages.

Expert testimony

At trial, the plaintiffs tried to present the testimony of an expert witness and some publications about the coefficient of friction (COF) of the surface. According to the court, the COF is “’the degree of slip resistance’” (quoting Mihailovich v. Laatsch, 359 F.3d 892, 896, 921 n.2 (7th Cir. 2004). The trial court did not allow any of this evidence to be presented.

Duty Of Cruise Ship Under Maritime Law

This lawsuit was filed according to maritime law. Under this law, the plaintiffs allege that NCL was negligent. The duty of care owed by an owner of a ship while the ship is in navigable waters is that of reasonable care. Of course, the question of reasonableness takes into consideration the circumstances existing at the time of the incident. The plaintiffs needed to prove that NCL owed Mrs. Sorrels a duty to protect her from her fall and that it breached that duty. (They also needed to prove that the breach of NCL was the actual and proximate cause of her injury, and that she suffered actual harm because of the injury, but these two elements of her negligence claim are not at issue in this court’s opinion.) The plaintiffs hired a civil engineer to conduct a COF test on the pool deck in order to help show that NCL owed a duty and had breached it. The engineer tested the surface approximately a year and a half after the accident. His testimony based on his testing would have stated that the COF was less than slip-resistant according to industry values. There were other slip and falls that happened on the deck, and based on this, the engineer would have testified that NCL should have known the deck was unreasonably dangerous. This testimony was stricken by the trial court.

However, the appeals court notes in its opinion that there are three requirements in admitting expert testimony in court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 702. The expert must have appropriate qualifications, the testimony must be reliable, and the testimony must be helpful. This appeal called into question the reliability of the civil engineer’s opinions based on his tests. The Eleventh Circuit held that some of his testimony should have been presented. It also held that year-and-a-half gap between the incident and the testing did not necessarily render the testimony unreliable.

Injured on a Cruise? Contact Us Today

If you or a loved one have suffered from any type of injury on a cruise ship, you may be entitled to compensation. The dedicated Miami personal injury lawyers at Pita Weber Del Prado are prepared to assist you with your case. Reach out to us today at (305) 670-2889 or send us a message online for a free consultation.

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