Everett v. Carnival Cruise Lines

Decision Date25 September 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-5153,89-5153
Citation912 F.2d 1355
PartiesLottie EVERETT and Robert Everett, Plaintiffs-Appellees, Cross-Appellants, v. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Brooks C. Miller, Kelley, Drye & Warren, Miami, Fla., for defendant-appellant cross-appellee.

Bruce K. Anders, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., W. Sam Holland, James F. Asher, Kimbrell & Hamann, Miami, Fla., for plaintiffs-appellees cross-appellants.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Before JOHNSON and HATCHETT, Circuit Judges, and SMITH *, Senior Circuit Judge.

JOHNSON, Circuit Judge:

Defendant, Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. ("Carnival"), appeals the district court's denial of its motion for directed verdict and its motion for a new trial. Plaintiffs, Lottie and Robert Everett ("the Everetts"), cross appeal the district court's grant to defendant of remittitur.

I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
A. Background

The Everetts are residents of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Everett is fifty years old and until May 1985 was a factory worker. Carnival Cruise Lines is a Panamanian corporation with its principal place of business in Miami.

On January 13, 1986, the Everetts were passengers on Carnival's cruise ship "Holiday." While walking along a passenger walkway on the Lido deck of the ship, Mrs. Everett tripped and fell, sustaining injuries to her left shoulder and arm. The ship put into port the next day where Mrs. Everett saw a physician who advised her to return home for treatment. The Everetts flew home to Pennsylvania, and Mrs. Everett was hospitalized.

The object Mrs. Everett tripped over was a metal threshold cover for a fire door. 1 This threshold traverses the deck from the inboard wall of the ship to the outboard wall, cutting across the passenger walkway and through tables and chairs adjoining the walkway. The threshold is approximately 7/8 of an inch high and has sloping sides extending approximately one inch on either side. At the time of the accident, the threshold had affixed to it yellow and black signs saying "Watch Your Step." But the signs were worn and not highly visible. The threshold itself was dented from the traffic of passengers and dining carts.

Over the course of the next several months, Mrs. Everett underwent two operations and physical therapy treatment. Nevertheless, she lost forty to fifty percent of the function of her arm and shoulder.

B. Procedural History

The Everetts initially brought this action against Carnival in state court in Pennsylvania, seeking damages for personal injury and loss of consortium. Carnival removed on the ground of diversity to a United States District Court in Pennsylvania. The case was then transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. 2

The district court held a jury trial in November 1988. The jury found the Everetts' injuries to be fifty-five percent due to Carnival's negligence and forty-five percent due to Mrs. Everett's negligence. The jury found Mrs. Everett's damages to be $400,000 and Mr. Everett's to be $75,000.

In January 1989, the district court entertained post-trial motions. Carnival moved, inter alia, for a new trial on the grounds that the court did not properly instruct the jury that Carnival could be held liable only if it had actual or constructive notice of a defect and that the court incorrectly admitted evidence of subsequent remedial repairs to the threshold. The court denied these motions. The court, however, granted Carnival's motion for remittitur. The court reduced Mrs. Everett's damages by $30,987.93, the amount the jury had apparently awarded for future loss of unemployment compensation, finding that inclusion of that figure in the damage award had been improper. The court then entered judgment for the Everetts in the amount of $244,206.64.

Carnival appeals the court's denial of its motions for a new trial. The Everetts cross appeal the court's grant of remittitur. Because we find the issue of the improper jury instruction to be dispositive of the case, we need not address the issues of subsequent remedial repairs or remittitur.

II. DISCUSSION

In reviewing the district court's jury instructions, this Court should ask whether the charges, taken as a whole, sufficiently instructed the jury so that jurors understood the issues and were not misled. Dempsey v. MAC Towing, Inc., 876 F.2d 1538, 1542 (11th Cir.1989).

The district court gave the following instruction to the jury:

To recover for injuries sustained in her fall, Lottie Everett must show either that Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. (1) had actual notice of the condition of which she complains; OR (2) that the dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that in the exercise of ordinary care, Carnival Cruise Lines should have known of it; OR (3) that Carnival Cruise Lines negligently created or maintained its premises.

Carnival objected to the third part of this instruction on the theory that its liability must be predicated upon notice. The district court overruled that objection at trial and refused to grant Carnival's motion for a new trial on the ground that notice could be imputed to Carnival under Florida law.

The district court based its instruction on Pogue v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 242 F.2d 575 (5th Cir.1957), in which the former Fifth Circuit analyzed Florida tort law in the context of a slip and fall case and held that a premises owner who creates a dangerous condition is charged with knowledge of its existence. The court also cited a Florida state court case which held that an owner of a business premises who creates or maintains a dangerous condition breaches its duty to invitees. Holmes v. Don Mealey Chevrolet, Inc., 468 So.2d 552 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1985).

The district court's view that Florida law controlled this issue, however, was incorrect. Because this is a maritime tort, federal admiralty law should control. Even when the parties allege diversity of citizenship as the basis of the federal court's jurisdiction (as they did in this case), if the injury occurred on navigable waters, federal maritime law governs the substantive issues in the case. Kornberg v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 741 F.2d 1332, 1334 (11th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1004, 105 S.Ct. 1357, 84 L.Ed.2d 379 (1985). See also Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 628, 79 S.Ct. 406, 408-09, 3 L.Ed.2d 550 (1959); Keefe v. Bahama Cruise Line, Inc., 867 F.2d 1318, 1320-21 (11th Cir.1989).

The federal maritime law applicable to this issue was clearly set out in Keefe v. Bahama Cruise Line, supra, in which the plaintiff sued to recover for injuries sustained when she slipped and fell on the dance floor of a cruise ship. The court there held that the "benchmark against which a shipowner's behavior must be measured is ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances, a standard which requires, as a prerequisite to imposing liability, that the carrier have had actual or constructive notice of the risk-creating condition." Keefe, 867 F.2d at 1322. 3 The district court's instruction clearly went beyond the Keefe standard and was therefore erroneous.

The remaining question, then, is whether the third part of the instruction could have misled the jurors under the standard articulated in Dempsey v. MAC Towing, Inc., supra. The Everetts argue that the instruction, when taken as a part of the whole, is not inconsistent with the requirements of Keefe. They return to the theory articulated by the district court in its reliance on Pogue that notice of the defect can...

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