Monday, September 16, 2006
Princess Cruise Lines Not Liable for Sexual Assault on Teenage Passenger in Sauna—Court of Appeal
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A cruise line that allowed a teenager to use a sauna without supervision did not breach its duty of care to the minor and is not responsible for his being sexually assaulted, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
In an unpublished opinion filed Thursday, Div. Five affirmed a summary judgment in favor of Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd.
“Appellant’s argument is that the preventative steps, strict exclusion of minors from the sauna, would cost little, and would not burden Princess,” Justice Orville Armstrong wrote for the court. “Perhaps, although the evidence in this case establishes that teenage passengers wanted to use the sauna, and there is surely a cost in denying a passenger use of ship facilities. It is also true that the step appellant suggests would not prevent all sexual assaults in the sauna, only those on minors under the age of 16, or prevent all sexual assaults on minors, which could take place in other areas of the ship.”
The 15-year-old plaintiff, identified only as D.C., was on an Alaska cruise with several family members at the time of the 2003 incident. The cruise line notified state authorities as soon as the boy reported the assault, and another passenger—who eventually pled to a charge of indecent exposure—was arrested.
Princess argued that in the previous 10 years, there had not been a reported sexual assault in or near any steam room, shower, or spa on any of its ships. Its chief in-house lawyer acknowledged in her deposition that there had been seven sexual assaults on its ships in 10 years, but testified that all of these involved crew members, not incidents between two passengers, that none took place near a spa or sauna, and that only one involved a minor.
Princess also presented evidence that a sign outside the sauna warned that unsupervised use by minors under 16 was prohibited, while the plaintiff testified that he did not see the sign and was not stopped by the receptionist, and presented evidence that unaccompanied minors under that age frequently were seen in the spa area.
The head of security for Princess testified that minors under 16 were excluded from the sauna because of the high temperatures and possibility of dehydration.
In opposition to the cruise line’s summary judgment motion, the plaintiff offered a declaration by a former head of security for another cruise line, who said that sexual assaults on cruise ships had become prevalent in recent years, and that the ban on young people in the spa area should have been enforced by means of security cameras and by warning the parents, verbally and in writing.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle granted summary judgment to Princess, ruling that, among other things, the plaintiff failed to establish breach of duty or causation.
Armstrong agreed, saying the assault was unforeseeable and not reasonably preventable.
The justice also rejected the contention that the cruise line intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the minor and his family members by not notifying Alaska authorities until the day after the assault was reported. Absent proof of an effort to thwart the investigation, Armstrong wrote, a delay in reporting is not the type of “extreme and outrageous conduct the tort requires.”
The case is D.C. v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., B186382.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company