11th Circuit Excludes Plaintiff’s Expert on Human Walking Behavior

In Torres v. Carnival Corp., the Court was asked to determine whether Carnival Cruise lines created an unreasonably dangerous condition on the cruise ship, Carnival Splendor.  The case involved a plaintiff who was wearing platform shoes when she stumbled and fell, breaking her shoulder, as she was disembarking the cruise ship.  Plaintiff claimed her fall was caused by a raised threshold that had been partially hidden by a mat or similar material that disguised the raised surface.

 

Plaintiff hired a “human-factors engineer” to opine on the cause of the fall.  The expert testified that the height of the carpet affixed to the ramp where the accident occurred interrupted the “swing phase of Claimant’s foot” and caused her to fall.   Carnival moved to exclude the expert, and also moved for summary judgment as to the merits of the claim.  The motion to exclude was granted, as the judge stated that the expert testimony would unnecessarily complicate the case.  The judge explained, among other things, that the testimony would not be helpful, as jurors could readily comprehend the normal mechanics of walking and the various reasons that one might fall, including tripping on a rug or floor mat.  In addition, the district court determined that summary judgment was appropriate as the plaintiff could not prove that the cruise ship had breached its duty by creating a dangerous condition of which it was actually or constructively aware.

 

Plaintiff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.  The appellate court agreed that the human-factors expert was properly excluded, and upheld prior 11th Circuit precedent that exclusion of expert testimony regarding the causes of a fall is reasonable, as causes of a fall are “within the common knowledge of the jurors, and thus the probative value of such testimony is  outweighed by the danger of prejudice.”  The 11th Circuit further determined that plaintiff had failed to present any evidence that Carnival Cruise Lines had breached its duty to provide “ordinary and reasonable care under the circumstances.” Plaintiff was the sole passenger to experience trouble when crossing the disembarkation threshold, and admittedly was not paying attention as she walked over the threshold. The 11th Circuit held, without any showing that Carnival Cruise Lines’ negligence caused Plaintiff to stumble, the district court’s granting of summary judgment was appropriate.

 

Torres v. Carnival Corp.