An appeal court has upheld the claim of a female holidaymaker aboard a cruise ship who suffered soft tissue injuries to the knees and hands when she slipped on liquid on the floor in the café area. At the time of the accident the passenger was passing a drinks dispenser where the spillage had occurred.
At the original court hearing, it was found that it was “obviously foreseeable” that there was a possibility of spillages in the café area and a potential risk of causing a passenger to ‘slip and trip’. As a result, the cruise ship had a clear responsibility to operate a ‘reasonably effective system’ for removing any spilt liquid and minimising the risk that might be caused.
The cruise ship was found to have a full roster of staff and an inspection system in place, which would ensure that any spillages would be picked up almost immediately. Despite no evidence being given by any member of staff present in the café area on the day of the accident, the court concluded that the weight of the evidence showed that the cruise ship operators had complied with establishing a proper system to ensure the safety of their passengers and, therefore, dismissed the claim, to which the claimant appealed.
Must do more than just have evidence of safe management systems
At the appeal, the court considered the lack of evidence from the staff. If the spillage had occurred just seconds before the passenger tripped on the liquid, it would be reasonable to assume that there was likely to be little time for staff to take remedial action to clear the liquid. However, the judge pointed to the absence of evidence from members of staff who claimed to be operating the system, saying that despite the existence of a system, he was not entitled to infer the spillage occurred “only a very short time before the accident”.
The judge said that evidence needs to be put forward as to “the watch that was kept on the floor immediately before the accident”. The cruise ship defendants must do more than just have evidence of systems of safe management in place. The operators should also obtain witness evidence from the crew/employees present at the time to confirm how the system was being carried out at the time of the accident. Without the evidence, the court will be unable to determine from usual practice that the system was working properly and, in the present case, ruled in favour of the passenger claimant.
Under The Athens Convention on Carriage of Passengers and Luggage by Sea (1974), “The carrier shall be liable for the damage suffered as a result of death or personal injury to a passenger… if the incident which caused the damage so suffered occurred in the course of the carriage and was due to the fault or neglect of the carrier or of his servants or agents acting within the scope of their employment.”