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McBride v. Carnival Corp.

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

July 31, 2019

EARLINE MCBRIDE, Plaintiff,
v.
CARNIVAL CORPORATION d/b/a CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES LAWRENCE KING, JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon Defendant Carnival Corporation's ("Carnival") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") (D.E. 84), filed July 8, 2019.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         This personal injury case arises from Plaintiffs fall from her wheelchair while in the process of disembarking Carnival's vessel Ecstasy at the Port of Miami on November 23, 2015. In her Complaint, Plaintiff claims that her accident was caused by Carnival's negligence in, inter alia, (a) "fail[ing] to provide a reasonably safe means of. . . egress from the subject vessel for passengers;" (b) "fail[ing] to warn passengers ... of the dangerous condition which existed;" (c) "fail[ing] to properly train its employees in the use of the gangway for the disembarkation of disabled passengers;" (d) "fail[ing] to provide an appropriately designed gangway;" and (e) its employees, "operating in the course and scope of their employment, fail[ing] to safely disembark Plaintiff (D.E. 1, at 6-7, ¶ 25b, f, g, 1, m). Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that "Defendant was on actual or constructive notice of the presence of said conditions" (id. at 7, ¶ 26).

         The Court's deadline for all discovery in this action was July 3, 2019, over thirty months after Defendant filed its Answer on December 27, 2016 (D.E. 9). Following the close of all discovery, Carnival filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. 84), requesting judgment as a matter of law that (1) it is not liable for the alleged negligence of Mr. Charles, the man pushing Plaintiffs wheelchair, because he was not directly employed by Carnival (id. at 5-7); (2) it is not liable for the design of the gangway or the gangway ramp (id. at 7-8); and (3) it had no notice that there was a dangerous condition in the gangway (id. at 8-12).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard on Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate where there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (emphasis added); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). An issue is genuine if a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ, 93 F.3d 739, 742(11th Cir. 1996). A fact is material if it may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law. Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). The moving party has the burden of establishing both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986).

         B. Maritime Negligence

         To prevail on a maritime negligence claim, a plaintiff must establish that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty (e.g., to maintain the ship in a safe condition for passengers, to warn passengers of dangers that are not open and obvious); (2) the defendant breached the duty; and (3) the breach actually and proximately caused injury to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1336 (11th Cir. 2012). The duty of care that a shipowner owes to passengers is "ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances." Keefe v. Bahama Cruise Line, Inc., 867 F.2d 1318, 1322 (11th Cir. 1989). Therefore, the plaintiff must prove there was a condition on the ship that not only caused his or her injury, but also that could reasonably be seen as unsafe.

         As such, to be held liable for breach of a duty of care, a ship owner must have had "actual or constructive notice of the unsafe condition," meaning that it knew or reasonably should have known of the condition. Id. at 1322 (For liability to exist, "the carrier [must] have had actual or constructive notice of the risk-creating condition, at least where ... the menace is one commonly encountered on land and not clearly linked to nautical adventure."). An example of constructive notice is where a "hazard [has] been present for a period of time so lengthy as to [reasonably] invite corrective measures" by the shipowner. Id. Evidence of "substantially similar" prior accidents or occurrences may support the ship owner having had notice, see Sorrels v. NCL (Bah.) Ltd., 796 F.3d 1275, 1287-88 (11th Cir. 2015), but this is not at all the exclusive means of proving a ship owner's notice.

         C. Carnival's Duty to Provide Safe Egress is Nondelegable

          First, Carnival argues that it is not liable for the alleged negligence of Mr. Charles, because the record shows that Mr. Charles was "employed by SMS, a non-party independent contractor"[2](D.E. 84, at 5), and that it did not owe Plaintiff "a non-delegable duty to provide safe egress from the vessel such that it would be liable for any negligence of SMS" (id. at 15-16). Plaintiff alleged in her Complaint that Carnival owed her such a nondelegable duty (id. at 12 (citing D.E. 1, at 3, ¶ 9)), and the Eleventh Circuit opinion Vierling v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 339 F.3d 1309 (11th Cir. 2003) (Tjoflat, J.) clearly states:

A high degree of care is demanded of common carriers toward their passengers. Included in this high degree of care is the duty to maintain reasonable, safe means for passengers to board and disembark. This duty is nondelegable, and the failure of ...

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