Accidents on ship cruises frequently involve slips, and falls on food or spilled beverages and rain on pools decks, making the surface dangerous or defective. The question of liability is based on the surface’s “coefficient of friction”, which means the degree of slip resistance or the ratio between the force necessary to move one surface horizontally over another and the normal force each surface exerts on the other. Thus, the higher the coefficient of friction, the less slippery the surface will be. Mihailovich v. Laatsch, 359 F. 3d 892, 921 n. 2 (7th Cir. 2004).
In a slip and fall case, Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd, 2015 WL 4619887 (11th Cir. 2015), the Court of Appeals held that expert testimony about the “coefficient of friction” of the surface slipped on may be helpful. Here, plaintiff left the cruise ship’s lounge, walking towards one of the adjoining outdoor pool decks, which was was wet from rain. Once walking on the deck, plaintiff slipped and fractured her wrist. Then, the plaintiff sued for negligence under maritime law.
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Under maritime law, the owner of a ship in navigable waters owes passengers a duty of care under similar circumstances; and thus, to prevail on her negligence claim, the plaintiff had to prove
that 1) defendant had a duty to protect her from a particular injury, such as her slip and fall; 2) defendant breached that duty; 3) the breach actually and proximately caused plaintiff’s injury and 4) plaintiff suffered actual harm, plaintiff fractured her wrist.
Generally, an expert witness’s testimony is presented as evidence concerning surface’s “coefficient of friction” regarding whether the surface in question meets the appropriate coefficient of friction industry standard. In the case, Rosenfeld v. Oceania Cruises, Inc., 654 F. 3d 1190, 1193-94 (11th Cir. 2011), the plaintiff had an expert, a civil engineer, to help her establish defendant’s duty of care and the breach herein. The expert after performing a coefficient of friction testing on the deck following a rain-fall reported that wet testing produced a coefficient of friction range from 0.70 on the high end to 0.14 on the low end. The average value for all wet testing was 0.45, which is below minimum standard values that have traditionally been accepted as required by the Industry coefficient of friction standards in order to classify a walkway surface as slip-resistant.
The expert also reported that walkways on ships shall have a non-skid surface sufficient to provide a “coefficient of friction” of 0.6 or higher measured when the surface is wet, concluding that at the time the deck was tested; it did not meet the minimum coefficient of friction standard for passenger walkways, and based on other reported slip and fall incidents that occurred on the same ship, defendant knew or should have known that the condition of the deck in question posed an unreasonable risk to passengers when it was wet. Also that, due to the wide range of friction resistance along the walkway, the deck tricked people via a false sense of security; even if, defendant had posted warning signs about the defective deck’s surface, they would have been inadequate to warn passengers of the potential unknown danger.
In conclusion, the Court of appeals determined that coefficient of friction applies not only to crew members aboard ships but to passengers as well since most areas walk across by both crew members and passengers, including the pool decks. A deck constructed of a single material cannot be designed to meet two different coefficient of friction standards-one for passengers and one for crew members simultaneously.
See Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd, 2015 WL 4619887 (11th Cir. 2015); Rosenfeld v. Oceania Cruises, Inc., 654 F. 3d 1190, 1193-94 (11th Cir. 2011); Mihailovich v. Laatsch, 359 F. 3d 892, 921 n. 2 (7th Cir. 2004); and Oxford English Dictionary 1035 (5th ed. 2002).
The Daubert Dilemma in the Slip & Fall Case. Does Forensic Science measure up? –