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A Review of a Recent Appellate Court Decision Demonstrating the Difficulty in Recovering Damages after Falls on Slippery Steps

Although cruises offer a wide range of activities and entertainment, this type of vacation sometimes ends abruptly because of unsafe conditions, negligent maintenance, or careless crewmembers. Staircases and steps constitute one of the most common locations of serious injury on cruise ships. While a negligently maintained step can cause a tumble that results in a broken leg, broken arm, back injury, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or a broken wrist, our experienced Miami cruise injury attorney are intimately familiar with the difficult challenge of prevailing in these cruise injury lawsuits. 

In this blog post, our Miami cruise ship slip and fall lawyers review a recent case demonstrating the challenge of winning a lawsuit involving a passenger's fall on cruise ship steps. In Taiariol v. MSC Crociere S.A., the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the cruise line after she slipped and fell on a step. The lawsuit alleged that the step was in a "dangerous, slippery and unsafe condition." This claim was based on deformation of the protective nosing on a step. This part of a step common in cruise ships often is comprised of a metal wear strip with a rubber strip that is installed on the exterior lip of a step to decrease wear and tear. The nosing will often encase lights (referred to as tivoli lighting). When the nosing becomes loose or malformed from foot traffic, it can create a significant hazard to those using the stairs.

The plaintiff and her husband had to negotiate stairs on the MSC ship Divina to enter the ship's theater, which the couple visited on several occasions during their cruise. When stepping up to reach their balcony seat, the plaintiff slipped on nosing that projected slightly beyond and along the edge of the step. She slipped on the metal strip when exiting the show and broke her ankle during her fall.

The cruise line moved for summary judgment based on the claim that any hazard posed by the condition of the step was "open and obvious." The standard for granting a motion for summary judgment is that there is an absence of any material fact about which reasonable jurors could disagree. Despite the deformed nosing, the trial court granted summary judgment for the cruise company.

On appeal to the Miami Federal District Court, the cruise line relied on a common strategy by denying it knew or through reasonable inspection should have known of the dangerous conditions that caused the fall. While cruise lines owe their passengers a duty of reasonable care under all the circumstances, this duty will be owed by a cruise line in a slip and fall or trip and fall case if the company knew or should have known of the non-obvious and open danger.

The appellate court considered the knowledge of the cruise line and concluded that no evidence was introduced indicating that MSC was aware of the "risk-creating condition." The plaintiff pointed to reports of falls on the steps of other MSC ships involving passengers. The court rejected these incidents as putting the cruise line on notice of the "risk-creating condition because they did not involve falls caused by damaged or deformed nosing on a step. The court reasoned that other cases involving falls on the step of a cruise were not sufficiently similar to put MSC on notice because they involved hazards like unattached railings, electrical cords, marble staircases, camouflaged steps, and similar hazards. Apparently, the court thought these risks were too different from a deformed nosing to create constructive knowledge. The court also reasoned that the nosing was not sufficiently worn to be noticeably different from the other steps according to the court.

Surprisingly, the court also decided that a warning sign on the step did not raise an issue of fact regarding notice of the slippery condition of the nosing. The court concluded that the sign was present only to warn of the presence of the step not a risk from the worn nosing.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Serious Injury and Wrongful Death Victims and Families

Our Miami personal injury lawyers anticipate the complex issues that often arise in cruise ship slip and fall accidents, so we can gather appropriate evidence and tenaciously pursue the fullest recovery for our clients. Our Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to pursue the results you desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida's top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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