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Eleventh Circuit Court reverses summary judgment for defendant in cruise line premises liability case involving alleged negligent failure to warn passenger of dangerous condition

On April 1, 2019, in Guevara v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., No. 17-14889, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a summary judgment entered for the defendant cruise line in a premises liability case involving the cruise line’s alleged negligent failure to warn the plaintiff passenger of a dangerous condition.  The plaintiff slipped and fell when he stepped down from a landing located on the outer deck of a cruise ship operated by the defendant.  The plaintiff allegedly fell on a step down that had an adjacent warning sign alerting passengers to “watch your step.”  However, the light that ordinarily would have illuminated the sign was burned out at the time of the fall.  The plaintiff’s failure to warn claim hinged on whether the cruise line knew or should have known about the allegedly dangerous condition.  Keefe v. Bahama Cruise Line, Inc., 867 F.2d 1318, 1322 (11th Cir. 1989).  The Eleventh Circuit observed that in a maritime premises liability case a plaintiff can establish a defendant’s constructive notice with evidence that the defective condition existed for a sufficient period of time to invite corrective measures or with evidence of substantially similar prior incidents.  The plaintiff argued that the warning sign was itself sufficient evidence that the defendant was on notice of the dangerous condition. The defendant pointed out that the sign had been placed by the prior owner of the ship and generally argued that the mere presence of a warning sign does not automatically establish a cruise line’s notice of a potentially dangerous condition.  The Eleventh Circuit rejected the defendant’s reasoning, noting that there was no “significant distinction” between a cruise line placing a warning sign and a cruise line having knowledge of a permanently affixed warning sign that has been present on its ship for years.  However, the Eleventh Circuit did affirm the district court’s dismissal of a related claim for negligent maintenance of the lightbulb, noting that the plaintiff had failed to adduce any evidence that the defendant had actual or constructive notice that the lightbulb was out on the night that the plaintiff fell.