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Common carrier liability.

Common carrier liability. A federal appeals court has ruled that an off-duty crew member of a cruise line was acting within his scope of employment when he raped a passenger who had gone ashore. The court also determined that the cruise line, as a common carrier, is liable for crew member assaults on passengers.

In July 1999, Jane Doe was a passenger on a cruise ship bound from New York City to Bermuda. Upon reaching Bermuda, Doe and several friends went to a local disco where they met Baris Aydin--their waiter on the cruise ship--and several other crew members. (Waiters are assigned to the same travelers throughout the journey, so Doe and her friends were familiar with Aydin.)

The group stayed together at the disco, and as individual passengers were ready to go back to the ship, the crew members escorted them. While walking Doe back to the vessel, Aydin pushed her into a small park and raped her. He then walked her back to the ship.

Doe went immediately to the infirmary and reported that she had been raped. The cruise line paid to have Doe and her friends flown back to their homes in Connecticut the next day, and Doe received medical attention at a local hospital.

Doe filed a lawsuit against Celebrity Cruises, Inc., the operator of the ship; Zenith Shipping Corporation, the owner of the vessel; Apollo Ship Chandlers, a provider of service and personnel for the ship; and Celebrity Catering Services Partnership, a food and food service provider. Doe alleged that the defendants should be liable for sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

The defendants requested that the case be dismissed, arguing that they could not be held liable for Aydin's misconduct because he was acting outside of the scope of his employment when he assaulted Doe. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida allowed the case to go forward, ruling that the cruise line is a common carrier and is strictly liable for crew member assaults on passengers.

At the subsequent trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $1 million in compensatory damages.

Immediately after the trial, the defendants requested a hearing for the judge to determine whether any one of the four defendants was both a common carrier and Aydin's employer. After the hearing, the district court ruled that because Celebrity Cruises is a common carrier but Apollo Ship Chandlers actually employed Aydin, neither party was both common carrier and Aydin's employer. Given that none of the defendants could meet both of these requirements, the court determined, none of them could be held liable. The court vacated its earlier decision and the jury verdict. Doe appealed the decision.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's decision and reinstated the jury verdict. The court ruled that the exact employer of Aydin did not matter and that the cruise line could not delegate its responsibility as a common carrier. The court also confirmed that because crew members were allowed to socialize with passengers when off-duty, Aydin was within the scope of his employment when he assaulted Doe. (Jane Doe v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, No. 03-15321, 2004)
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Author:Anderson, Teresa
Publication:Security Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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