The jury instruction reads, “Just because an accident happens, does not mean someone is to blame."This instruction is a major stumbling block to plaintiffs recovering in cruise line slip and fall accident cases.
The law is clear that a foreign substance must have been on the floor for a period of time long enough for ship personnel to notice it, or that they must have known of its existence and neglected to attend to it. Alternatively, the ship must have created a dangerous condition and failed to warn its passengers or remedy the situation.
Most cruise line slip and fall cases involve transitory substances on the floor such as water, ice cream, coffee or soft drinks. There may also be food on the floor near vending areas and buffet lines. The difficulty in establishing liability on the ship is being able to show that the substance was on the floor for a substantial period of time, or long enough for someone to have seen it and cleaned it up. This is where most cases fail.
If you or someone you know is injured in a slip and fall accident on a cruise ship, it is important that you look around at the surroundings and immediately document the area. Was the transitory substance or liquid in a place where you might expect it, such as a pool deck, outside Jacuzzi or by the service area of the bar? This is important because the ship will use it as a defense that a reasonable person would expect water to be on the deck in those particular areas. However, if the water is in an area where one would not expect it to be, that detail would be important because these areas are routinely patrolled and notice is easier to establish. It is also critical to obtain the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses. Most people are willing to help, but if you don't have their particulars then their information will be of no assistance.
Oftentimes, passengers believe that the threshold areas that separate one portion of the ship from the other are tripping hazards. However, the thresholds generally fall within the acceptable height deviations from the deck. Again, if you or someone you are traveling with trips over one of these thresholds, it will be important to photograph the area immediately. If, for any reason, the threshold area is damaged or defective, the ship has an obligation to inspect the area and correct any dangerous conditions. Photographic evidence is very important in the trip and fall, slip and fall cases. Every passenger has a camera or knows someone who has one. Have a member of your party photograph the area of the incident thoroughly and immediately thereafter. This evidence may be very useful in litigating a claim against the cruise line.
Obviously, the passenger’s level of sobriety and type of footwear will also come into play. Remember, you are given a folio charging card at the beginning of the cruise. The cruise line knows exactly how much alcohol you purchased with that card. If you are injured after a day of heavy drinking, you better believe that that will be a defense. Additionally, the footwear being worn at the time will also come in to play. It is, after all, a ship; sensible footwear is a must. Sometimes you have to sacrifice fashion for safety.
Finally, every passenger has an obligation to look after his or her own safety. That means you are charged with the responsibility to look where you're going and appreciate open and obvious dangers. Not every accident can be avoided, but not every accident means someone will be held at fault. Each case turns on its own set of facts and circumstances. The more facts that are gathered immediately after the incident, the better chance you have to successfully prosecute a slip and fall or trip and fall claim against the cruise line.