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From Products Liability Law Daily, August 27, 2015

Strict liability claim against cruise line sink, while negligence action remains afloat

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

While a cruise line was entitled to judgment on a strict product liability claim filed against it by an injured passenger because the cruise line neither sold, nor designed the allegedly defective ramp used for the purpose of assisting disabled passengers to move from their cabin to an outside balcony, a related negligence claim was allowed to proceed based on the existence of genuine issues of material fact, a federal district court in California determined (Cox v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., August 25, 2015, Lew, R.).

Background. While on a 14-day round-trip cruise from Los Angeles, California, to Hawaii on the Golden Princess, a cruise ship owned and operated by Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., a passenger, Debra Cox, was injured when a ramp upon which she was traveling in her mobility scooter failed. The passenger had a disability consisting of a below-the-right-knee leg amputation, and she relied on the mobility scooter for her transportation. Prior to embarking on the cruise, the passenger and her husband advised the cruise line of her disability and of her need for a handicap-accessible room. The cruise line accommodated her by placing the couple in a wheelchair-accessible cabin with a balcony.

According to the complaint, the cruise line had designed, manufactured, installed, and maintained a ramp for the purpose of assisting disabled passengers to gain access to the balcony from the cabin. The ramp allowed wheelchairs and mobility scooters to go over the cabin door threshold and outside to the balcony. The passenger alleged that two days into the cruise, she used the ramp to go outside the cabin onto the balcony. She claimed that on her way back into the cabin, the handicap ramp failed, separating under the load, and causing the passenger’s mobility scooter to tip over, resulting in a displaced intertrochanteric fracture of the passenger’s right femur.

The passenger and her husband filed suit against the cruise line alleging, among other things, strict liability in tort and negligence. Pending before the court is the cruise line’s motion for summary judgment on the passenger’s strict liability and negligence claims.

Negligence. In order to assert a negligence action under maritime law, an injured party must establish: (1) the existence of a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) breach of that duty of care; (3) a causal connection between the breach and the resulting injury; and (4) actual loss, injury, or damage suffered. Upon review of the facts, the court concluded that while the cruise line owed a duty of care to its passenger, genuine issues existed as to whether the cruise line had breached that duty and whether the breach had been the proximate cause of the passenger’s injuries. As a result, the court determined that summary judgment on this issue was not warranted.

Strict liability claim. For the strict liability claim, the injured passenger contended that the cruise line was the designer and manufacturer of the handicap accessible ramp in her cabin. The cruise line challenged that assertion, arguing that the passenger’s claim for strict liability should be dismissed because the cruise line did not design or manufacture the ramp, Furthermore, the cruise line asserted that it could not be liable for strict product liability because it did not sell the allegedly defective ramp. Based upon the evidence submitted, the court found that the passenger did not establish that the cruise line had designed the ramp, nor did she allege that the cruise line sold the ramp to her. Accordingly, because the cruise line was not engaged in the business of selling the ramp for use or consumption, it was not subject to strict product liability. Thus, the cruise line’s motion for summary judgment on this issue was granted.

The case is No. CV-13-01765 RSWL (JEMx).

Attorneys: Thomas F. Friedberg (Law Offices of Friedberg and Bunge) for Debra Cox. Jeffrey B. Maltzman (Maltzman and Partners PA) for Princess Cruise Lines Ltd.

Companies: Princess Cruise Lines Ltd.

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