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Appellate court rules for woman injured during cruise ship dance

Posted On: Jul. 12, 2021 3:30 PM CST

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A shipowner can be held liable under maritime law when its employee negligently injures a passenger without it having been given previous notice of a risk-creating situation, a federal appeals court said Monday, in overturning a lower court ruling.

Joann Yusko, a passenger on a cruise ship operated by Miami-based NCL (Bahamas) Ltd. was injured when she volunteered to participate in a dance competition while on a 10-day cruise, according to Monday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Joann Yusko v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd.

The ruling said the 64-year-old Ms. Yusko was being spun around by a cruise ship employee who was a professional dancer when she fell backward and hit her head. Upon her return home, she was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury stemming from her fall, the ruling said.

Ms. Yusko filed suit against the cruise line in U.S. District Court in Miami, alleging NCL was negligent through its agents and employees, and that the employee had failed to act reasonably and in a manner that would keep her safe.

The district court granted the cruise line summary judgment dismissing the case, holding a shipowner is not liable to a passenger under maritime negligence law unless it has an  “actual or constructive notice of a risk-creating condition” on a ship, which it said was not the case here.

The ruling was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.

The panel agreed with Ms. Yasuko that the cruise line could be held liable for its employee’s negligence based on a theory of vicarious liability, even if it could not be held directly liable for an action it did or failed to do, without having been given notice of a possible risky situation.

Among the cases cited in its ruling was the 11th Circuit’s 2019 decision in K.T. v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which held that a cruise line could be held vicariously liable in a lawsuit in which a minor was allegedly given alcohol by a group of fellow passengers on a cruise, then gang raped.

An attorney for Ms. Yusko, Philip D. Parrish of Philip D. Parrish PA in Miami, said in a statement, “We are pleased but not surprised that the 11th Circuit clarified that a shipowner such as NCL is liable when its employee negligently injures a passenger and that the passenger does not have to establish that the cruise line had advance notice of the negligence of its employee.

“This is a commonsense ruling based upon over a century of maritime law.”

Cruise line attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.