Did a Stage Lighting Expert’s Report Overcome Summary Judgment?

In the 11th Circuit, a per curiam decision from a panel of circuit judges found that in the absence of any evidence from which the jury could have eliminated other equally probable causes of the plaintiff’s injuries, the district court correctly determined that she wasn’t entitled to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to sustain her negligence claim. At issue was the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s expert report from an expert in overhead and stage lighting to overcome summary judgment. 

Plaintiff asked the Eleventh Circuit to reconsider the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the cruise line. In her lawsuit, Plaintiff alleged that the cruise operator had been negligent in maintaining a lighting machine above the dance floor on a cruise ship and, as a result of that negligence, part of the machine had fallen and struck her on the head. She had her first-ever migraine headache soon after she was struck by the lighting, and she has continued to experience frequent, intense migraine headaches ever since. 

The lighting machines flash colored light and contain a rotating oval mirror used to reflect light for a disco ball-like effect. A metal bracket is affixed to the back of the oval mirror; that bracket is attached by two three-millimeter bolts to a rotating shaft below the motor.  

According to its user manual, the lighting “requires regular maintenance to keep performing at [its] peak.” The manual prescribed no set maintenance schedule, instead noting that the machine’s “maintenance schedule will depend on the application and should be discussed with your […] distributor.” The only warning in the manual was that “[e]xcessive dust, grease, and smoke fluid buildup degrades performance and causes overheating and damage that is not covered by the warranty.” As for the mirror, bolts, bracket, and shaft, the manual noted only that “[n]o adjustment is required” once the mirror is installed “as long as you do not loosen the tilt motor shaft adaptor.”  

As part of its regular maintenance, the cruise line employed sound and light technicians to regularly clean and inspect the lighting machines. Those technicians were required to report in maintenance logs “anything wrong” or anything that “need[ed] maintenance” on the lighting machines. The maintenance logs reflected that the lighting machines were inspected and cleaned less than two months before Plaintiff‘s incident. No issues with the lighting machines were documented at that time or at any other occasion. 

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