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Eleventh Circuit rules in maritime premises liability case that cruise ship security officers’ presence during the verbal altercation that preceded a passenger-on-passenger assault did not provide actual or constructive notice that a physical assault was to follow

On May 3, 2022, in Fuentes v. Classica Cruise Operator Ltd., Inc. No. 20-14639, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a summary judgment entered by the district court for the defendant cruise line company in a maritime premises liability case involving injuries the plaintiff suffered in a physical altercation with another passenger. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was at fault because it failed to (a) reasonably and properly train security personnel; (b) have adequate security measures, including adequate security presence and surveillance cameras; (c) warn him of the danger of being physically assaulted while onboard the vessel; (d) promulgate and enforce policies and procedures designed to prevent passengers from physically assaulting other passengers; and (e) exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, ruling that there was no evidence suggesting that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the risk of harm to someone like the plaintiff. The Eleventh Circuit held that in the context of passenger-on-passenger violence, a cruise line has a duty to warn and/or protect when it or its employees reasonably apprehend the danger such that the attack was foreseeable. The Eleventh Circuit stated that although there was evidence that ship security officers were present during the verbal altercation that preceded the assault, a verbal dispute does not provide actual notice that a physical assault is to follow, citing Amy v. Carnival Corp., 961 F.3d 1303 (11th Cir. 2020). The Eleventh Circuit additionally noted that the lack of a record of prior passenger-on-passenger assaults on the cruise ship was inconsistent with the plaintiff’s argument that the cruise ship was on constructive notice that such an incident might occur.