Court Allows Negligence Claim Stemming from Cruise Excursion Accident to Proceed - Heyden v. Celebrity Cruises
As mentioned in our previous posts, a person injured in an accident aboard a cruise ship may very well have a claim against the ship's owner. But what about when the accident happens during an onshore excursion? In Heyden v. Celebrity Cruises, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida explains that the ship owner may be liable for negligence in selecting and retaining a third party excursion operator who is unfit.
Heyden was a passenger on a Celebrity Cruises ship when he was injured while riding a Segway during a shore excursion in St. Maarten. The accident occurred as Heyden was traveling on a pedestrian boardwalk. The Segway caught a bench nailed to the ground, causing Heyden to tumble from the vehicle, which then fell atop him. The tour was operated by Caribbean Segway Tours, an independent contractor. Heyden sued Celebrity for negligence, claiming that the company was remiss in selecting and retaining the excursion operator, among other claims.
Denying Celebrity's motion to dismiss the action, the Southern District found that Heyden properly alleged claims for negligent contractor selection and retention.
"Though cruise ship owners . . . cannot be held vicariously liable for the negligence of an independent contractor, it is well-established that they may be liable for negligently hiring or retaining a contractor," the court explained, citing its 2011 decision in Smolnikar v. Royal Caribbean. To state such a claim, an injured person must alleged that the contractor was not competent to perform the work; the ship owner knew that the contractor was unfit; and the contractor's incompetence caused the injury.
Here, Heyden alleged that Caribbean Segway Tours was a "fly-by-night" operation whose workers themselves were not properly trained and failed to provide appropriate training and supervision for its customers. Indeed, the company gave only a two-minute orientation on how to operate the Segways, according to Heyden, and did not mention any dangers of operating the vehicles on the boardwalk before embarking on the excursion.
Heyden also argued that Celebrity was or should have been aware of CST's incompetence based on previous incidents. Specifically, he asserted that other CST customers were robbed at gunpoint during a Segway excursion in Nassau, Bahamas in 2009 and that Celebrity cancelled CST excursions at the site as a result.