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Eleventh Circuit reverses district court summary judgment for defendant cruise line in premises liability slip and fall case

On April 15, 2020, in Carroll v. Carnival Corporation, No. 17-13602, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s summary judgment for the defendant cruise line in a premises liability slip and fall case. The plaintiff allegedly tripped over the leg of a lounge chair while she was walking through a narrow pathway on a Carnival cruise ship. She sued Carnival, alleging that it negligently failed to maintain a safe walkway and failed to warn her of that dangerous condition. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Carnival on both claims, concluding that the condition was open and obvious and that Carnival lacked actual or constructive notice of the hazard. The action was governed by federal maritime law, under which the district court was obligated to rely on general principles of negligence law. See Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1336 (11th Cir. 2012). The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court erred by crediting some statements by the plaintiff—which favored Carnival’s open and obvious argument—over her other statements that she was forced to follow behind her husband due the layout of the chairs and the narrowness of the walkway. The district court also erred in determining that the open and obvious nature of the condition was dispositive of the entire case. The Eleventh Circuit pointed out that this would not have been dispositive of the negligent maintenance claim since such a claim would be unaffected by whether the condition was obvious or not. See Restatement (Third) of Torts § 51 cmt. k.