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Plaintiff Failed to Adduce Any Evidence that Slip and Fall on Boat Was Caused by Water at Location of Accident

Barbara Richardson v. Spirit Cruises, LLC
(August 26, 2016) United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

by Matthew J. McCloskey, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

Available at:

In a recent opinion, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia held that, whether under maritime law or Virginia law, the mere fact that a slip and fall took place on a boat did not create a triable issue of fact as to Defendant’s negligence in light of direct evidence that the location of the fall was dry at the time of the accident.

On October 12, 2013, Plaintiff and her daughter boarded a cruise ship owned and operated by Defendant. Approximately 20 minutes later, after the cruise had begun, Plaintiff fell down a flight of stairs on Defendant’s vessel. The stairs were carpeted, and there were handrails on each side. Plaintiff did not observe or feel any wetness on or around the stairs. In addition, one of Defendant’s employees observed the stairs immediately after the occurrence and found them to be clean, dry, and free of hazards that could have caused Plaintiff to fall. Plaintiff did not state to any of Defendant’s employees why she thought she had fallen, and Plaintiff’s daughter told one of Defendant’s employees that Plaintiff fell when she missed a step.

Plaintiff later sued Defendant, asserting one count of negligence and alleging that she slipped and fell on liquid present on the stairs. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s claim, arguing that Plaintiff could not show that an unsafe condition existed and that, even if such a condition did exist, it had no notice of the condition prior to the occurrence.

Judge Douglas E. Miller, writing for the Court, granted Defendant’s Motion. The Court first noted that, because the vessel was traveling on navigable waters at the time of the occurrence, the Court would analyze Plaintiff’s claim under both maritime and Virginia law. The standards in each regard, however, were effectively identical: under each standard, Defendant owed Plaintiff a duty of reasonable care, but was not liable unless it had actual or constructive notice of the alleged hazard that caused Plaintiff’s injury.

The Court concluded that Plaintiff failed to both establish that an unsafe condition existed and that Defendant had notice of the unsafe condition. Although Plaintiff theorized that water from passengers’ feet caused wetness on the stairs that led to the occurrence, Plaintiff could point to no facts to show that any such wetness actually existed. To the contrary, the stairs were examined immediately after Plaintiff’s fall and no wetness was found. As a result, the mere fact that the slip and fall took place on a boat near a large amount of water raised no inference that water was actually present on the stairs. Plaintiff had therefore failed to adduce sufficient evidence that a dangerous condition existed, as well as evidence that Defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of any such condition. Accordingly, the Court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.