Is A Property Owner Liable When A Fight Breaks Out Between Guests?
Private property owners typically have a legal responsibility to keep their premises “reasonably safe” for invited guests. This means that the owner must take reasonable steps to protect their guests from foreseeable hazards, including possible criminal activity. At the same time, however, the owner is not required to absolutely “insure” guest safety.
Federal Appeals Court Rejects Negligent Security Claim Against Cruise Ship Operator
A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Fuentes v. Classica Cruise Operator Ltd., Inc., illustrates the limits of such “negligent security” claims. This particular case arose on a cruise ship. Specifically, one passenger assaulted another passenger.
The plaintiff in this case took a cruise with his wife on the defendant’s ship. One night, there was a verbal altercation between the plaintiff and another passenger. This encounter did not lead to any physical confrontation.
The next morning, however, as the passengers disembarked the ship, the plaintiff again encountered the other passenger. The plaintiff said the other passenger was trying to cut the line to disembark. This led to another verbal altercation. One of the ship’s security officers noticed this exchange, radioed for backup, and approached the two men. The security guard advised both parties to “calm down.” But the other passenger quickly turned and punched the plaintiff in the face. A fight ensued and the plaintiff was knocked to the ground.
The plaintiff subsequently filed a negligent security lawsuit against the defendant. A federal court in Florida granted summary judgment to the defense after finding there was no evidence that the cruise ship company could have reasonably foreseen this incident. On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed.
The appellate court explained this case was governed by federal maritime law as opposed to state personal injury law, although the principles governing these types of claims are largely the same. Essentially, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s employees could have reasonably foreseen a passenger-on-passenger attack.
Typically, a cruise line is on notice of such risks based on prior incidents. For example, the 11th Circuit cited a prior case where a cruise operator was “on notice” that passengers could be injured in a port of call with a well-known reputation for criminal activity. In that case, the passenger could sue the cruise line after being shot by a local criminal gang. In this case, however, the defendant had neither actual or constructive notice that the plaintiff could be attacked by another passenger. For that matter, a security guard did intervene during the second verbal altercation but the attacker acted too quickly and without warning for ship security to respond. Under these circumstances, the 11th Circuit said the cruise operator could not be held legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Speak with a Florida Negligent Security Lawyer Today
If you have been injured on someone else’s property and you believe the owner took insufficient action to prevent your damages, it is best to speak with a qualified Florida private security attorney as soon as possible. Contact HD Law Partners today to schedule a free consultation.