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Richard v. Carnival Corp

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

February 26, 2018




         Valissia Richard brought this negligence action against Carnival Corporation to recover for burn injuries she sustained aboard the Carnival Breeze cruise ship when a waiter spilled hot water on her during dinner. Carnival contends that it cannot be held liable under the undisputed facts, and therefore moves for summary judgment. Richard filed a cross-motion for summary judgment as to Carnival's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Carnival's motion for summary judgment is denied. Furthermore, Carnival's affirmative defenses are denied with leave to reargue if appropriate, and Richard's motion for summary judgment is therefore denied as moot.

         I. Statement of Facts

         In October 2016, Valissia Richard travelled as a passenger aboard the Carnival Breeze- a cruise ship owned and operated by Carnival Corporation. At approximately 9:30 P.M. on the night of October 25, Richard sat down for dinner in the cruise ship's Blush dining hall. She sat at a table with other passengers, including Chester Williams and Sherrie Dawson. Dawson, who sat next to Richard, brought a maraca[1] to dinner. Carnival did not distribute maracas that evening; nor did it host a themed event that would involve the use of maracas. However, at around 9:00 or 9:15 P.M., waiters in the Blush dining hall participated in a singing and dancing event called "Show Time."

         At some point during the dinner, Richard ordered hot tea from Head Waiter Wayan Setiawan. Setiawan filled a stainless steel Vollrath teapot with hot water from a WMF Programmat GV water dispensing machine, which heated water to 96 degrees Celcius (204.8 degrees Fahrenheit).[2] The silver Vollrath teapot used by Setiawan was designed with a nonlocking, non-sealing hinged lid. He then returned to Richard's table.

         Setiawan returned to Richard's table with the teapot in hand. At the same time, Dawson-"the woman sitting next to Plaintiff'-was shaking the maraca in her hand. As Setiawan approached the table to serve Richard, Dawson hit his hand-the teapot then fell off the saucer, spilling hot water onto Richard's chest, right shoulder, and right arm.

         Richard suffered severe injuries from the accident, including second degree burns on her right chest, breast, and upper and lower right arm. She claims that these burns left her with "permanent scarring or disfigurement." She seeks to recover for those injuries, the cost of her past and future medical treatment, and her pain and suffering.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is authorized where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not simply rest upon mere allegations or denials of the pleadings; the non-moving party must establish the essential elements of its case on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The non-movant must present more than a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position. A jury must be able reasonably to find for the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254(1986).

         III. Analysis

         When addressing a maritime tort case such as this, the Court "rel[ies] on general principles of negligence law." Daigle v. Point Landing, Inc., 616 F.2d 825, 827 (5th Cir. 1980). "To state a negligence claim under maritime law, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from a particular injury; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the breach actually and proximately caused the plaintiffs injury; and (4) the plaintiff suffered actual harm." Lipkin v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., 93 F.Supp.3d 1311, 1319 (S.D. Fla. 2015) (Williams, J.) (citing Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1336 (11th Cir. 2012)). With respect to the duty element, the Supreme Court has explained that "a shipowner owes the duty of exercising reasonable care towards those lawfully aboard the vessel who are not members of the crew." Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 630 (1959) (emphasis added).

         Richard contends "Carnival was negligent in the manner, method, and mode of serving Richard hot water for tea." (Resp. at 22.) She asserts that Setiawan owed a duty to exercise reasonable care and avoid actions that foreseeably could cause injury to passengers, and contends that Setiawan breached this duty when he "failed to properly secure the tea pot such that it would not pour hot water on passengers."[3] (Compl. ¶ 13.) According to Richard, the average person exercising reasonable care under the circumstances would have taken additional precautions to avoid the type of that caused her injuries. Specifically, she alleges that "[h]ad Setiawan held the teapot by the handle, and not by the saucer, it would have prevented the teapot from falling off the saucer and dumping the water on to Richard." (Resp. at 4.) Therefore, Richard concludes that Setiawan's breach directly and proximately caused her injuries.

         Carnival rejects these assertions. In contending that it has no liability for Richard's burns, Carnival focuses on Dawson's conduct and her collision with Setiawan. It argues that Dawson operated as an unforeseeable intervening force, and that her actions-not those of Setiawan- proximately caused Richard's injuries. According to Carnival, "[i]t is purely speculation, and otherwise impossible, for Plaintiff to assert that a different model teapot, or holding the teapot with two hands instead of one, or holding the teapot by its handle, or even serving the hot water at lower temperatures would have not harmed or injured Plaintiff." (Mot. at 14.) Carnival maintains, therefore, that it did not breach a duty owed to Richard, or even if it did, that its breach proximately caused Richard's injuries.

         The Court, however, cannot accept Carnival's conclusion because the parties have failed to resolve important factual discrepancies bearing on the claims at issue. Although the parties concur about many of the events preceding Richard's injuries, their dueling statements of facts illuminate several genuine and material factual disputes. Specifically, Richard and Carnival disagree about the temperature of the hot water when served, the wait staffs training, and the position of Dawson's hands and maracas as Setiawan approached the table. If believed, Richard's version of the disputed facts offer ...

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