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A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated a personal injury lawsuit filed by a Carnival Corp. passenger who hurt her leg and knee in a trip-and-fall, ruling there was evidence the company may have known about a dangerous condition on its ship.
Paulette Bunch injured her right leg and knee as she was exiting the aerobics room and entering the gym on Carnival Corp.’s Glory cruise ship, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Paulette Howard Bunch v. Carnival Corp., a.k.a. Carnival Cruise Line.
Ms. Bunch filed suit against the Miami-based cruise line, asserting a negligence claim, in U.S. District Court in Miami. The lower court granted Carnival’s summary judgment dismissing the case, on the basis Ms. Bunch had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact about Carnival’s actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.
The ruling was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel. Ms. Bunch testified that although she was paying attention to where she was walking, she could not see the threshold because the stainless steel baseboard reflected the carpet and looked “flush to the floor, like an optical illusion.”
Although no other person had tripped on the aerobics room threshold in the five years before her accident, Ms. Bunch pointed out that seven other passengers had tripped and fallen at different thresholds on other ships where there was also stainless steel reflective baseboards, and Carnival had posted at least three warning signs telling passengers to watch their step, and also striped tape.
The earlier trips and falls and the warnings posted “are sufficient to show a genuine issue of material fact about Carnival’s actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition at the aerobics room threshold” on Ms. Bunch’s ship, the appellate court ruling said.
While the district court had focused on differences in the height and location of the other thresholds, Ms. Bunch’s theory was not based just on the aerobic room threshold’s height, but on the “optical illusion” created by the stainless steel threshold, the ruling said.
The warnings and striped tape at the other thresholds also “create an issue of fact as to whether Carnival corrected a problem at those thresholds that was similar” to the problem on Ms. Bunch’s ship, it said.
“Because there is a genuine issue material fact about Carnival having actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition and also about whether any danger was open and obvious, the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Carnival on Bunch’s negligence claim based on failure to warn and failure to remedy,” the panel said, in reversing the lower court’s ruling and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Plaintiff attorney John H. Hickey, of the Hickey Law Firm PA in Miami, said in a statement, “This is a ruling which confirms the plain truth that the cruise lines over the years have had mountains of notice that these raised thresholds are tripping hazards.
“And where - as here - they are disguised and hidden by a mirror of stainless steel, the hazard is even worse. Simple measures, like the ones they took after this cruise passenger fell, could have prevented these debilitating permanent injuries.
“Our client has had surgeries to essentially remove a large nerve in her leg which has left her with a foot drop, the inability to control your foot. And she suffers from these injuries’ chronic pain.”
Carnival’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.
Cruise operator Carnival Corp. & PLC has extended the suspension of operations of its cruise line P&O Cruises in Australia and New Zealand until Aug. 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ShareCast reports. It plans to resume some U.S. services from Aug. 1.