One of 2015’s most groundbreaking rulings overturned some long-standing liability precedents regarding cruise ships, and a number of cruise ship plaintiffs within the U.S.’s 11th circuit (including jurisdictions in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) will now have their days in court. Also resulting from this ruling is the revival of the slip-and-fall injury of plaintiff Teresa Sorrels, who was injured aboard a Norwegian Sky cruise liner in 2012.
Sorrels, while on the cruise with her husband, slipped and fell on the cruise deck the morning after a severe rainstorm and suffered a fractured wrist. She alleges that the design of the primarily teak wood deck did not meet Coefficient of Friction (COF) standards – which refer to the degree of slip-resistance – for employees and passengers of the cruise ship. In slip-and-fall cases involving dangerous or defective surfaces, the surface’s COF may be a crucial factor in determining liability for the accident; the higher the surface’s COF, the less friction and greater risk of slipping there will be.
While evidence relating to COF is usually presented by expert witnesses, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida allegedly abused its discretion in Sorrels’s case by not allowing her expert witness to testify and excluding all expert testimony. The district court granted “summary judgment” in favor of Norwegian Sky, and the 11th Circuit’s three-judge panel (Judges Jones, Jordan, and Pryor) claims this to be an error because the plaintiff’s expert testimony would have focused on COF standards for both employees and passengers rather than separate standards; the latter was advocated in court by the defendant cruise liner. The 11th Circuit found the application of separate standards to be incorrect, as employees and passengers traverse most of the same deck areas.
The district court initially dismissed Sorrels’s expert testimony under two precedents: “Dr. Zollo’s (the expert in the case) COF testing area had not covered the path Ms. Sorrels traveled before she slipped;” and the plaintiff “failed to show that the same conditions existed on the deck at the time she fell.”
Despite conflict within the district court, justice may still be served. “We are very pleased with the decision because now our clients will get their day in court,” said Carol Lynn Finklehoff, the plaintiffs’ counsel. “There’s a long history on all of the cruise lines of people falling in these areas, and the cruise lines always try to deny liability.”
The case is: Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd. d.b.a. Norwegian Cruise Line, Case No. 13-15858 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on a cruise ship due to negligence, contact Mike Agruss Law for a free consultation. We are a Chicago-based injury law firm representing individuals (and their families) who have suffered an injury in an accident. We will handle your case quickly and advise you every step of the way, and we will not hesitate to go to trial for you.
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