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Blomquist v. Horned Dorset Primavera, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 31, 2019


          Appeal From the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico Hon. Marcos E. López, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

          Roberto Boneta, with whom Boneta & Nogueras, LLC was on brief, for appellants.

          Julio C. Cayere-Quidgley, with whom Héctor J. Ferrer-Ríos, were on brief, for appellee Universal Insurance Group, Inc.

          Before Torruella, Thompson, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          Torruella, Circuit Judge.

         A destination wedding in Puerto Rico can be a wonderfully jovial affair. Spirits flow freely. The sights are beautiful. Guests chat and dance into the early morning hours under the Caribbean sky. Unchecked joviality, however, has an unfortunate tendency of leading to carelessness. Add an intentionally wet and soapy dancefloor to the equation and someone is bound to get hurt. And when someone gets hurt, lawsuits frequently follow. That is what happened here.

         Appellants Kristin Blomquist and her husband Kevin Warner filed suit in the District of Puerto Rico against The Horned Dorset Primavera Hotel, Inc. (the "Hotel"), claiming the Hotel was negligent in relation to a slip and fall Blomquist suffered during their friends' wedding in the Hotel premises. Blomquist and Warner alleged that the Hotel was liable for Blomquist's injuries because it did not respond in accordance with its heightened responsibility under Puerto Rico law to the presence of a dangerous condition in its premises __ a wet and soapy dancefloor. The jury disagreed, and the district court entered judgment accordingly.

         Discontent with this result, Appellants moved for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial. The district court denied both motions, finding that the jury's verdict was reasonably supported by the evidence and that the Appellants' motion did not provide basis for either a judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. Blomquist and Warner appealed, and we now affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Appellants Kristin Blomquist and Kevin Warner ("Appellants"), a married couple from New York, traveled to Puerto Rico on April 4, 2013, to attend their friends' destination wedding. Upon arriving in Puerto Rico, Blomquist and Warner checked into the Horned Dorset Primavera Hotel, [1] where the wedding ceremony, banquet, and reception were to be held on April 6, 2013.

         The ceremony and banquet were held in one of the Hotel's ballrooms. After the banquet, the wedding guests moved outdoors for the reception. The outdoor reception area consisted of a rectangular space, about thirty-five meters long and eight meters wide, described as a "plaza" (the "plaza") and a slightly elevated pool section. The plaza is located in a space between two sets of stairs, one leading up to the second floor of the Hotel's main building, and the other leading up to the elevated pool section. Here, a bar was set up and a temporary dancefloor[2] was installed. A DJ set up his equipment in the elevated pool area, which had been furnished with tables and chairs. Under the stars, guests enjoyed an open bar and danced to the DJ's tunes.

         The festivities, however, took a turn for disorder as the night wore on. The younger crowd of guests that remained at the reception__ a group of approximately forty-five to fifty individuals __ began jumping into the pool and transitioning between the pool and the nearby dancefloor. At some point between 12:00am and 1:30am, following the bride's lead, the guests purposefully wet the dancefloor and began to "slip and slide."[3]They slipped and slid laying on their front sides, backsides, and sideways. A few of the partygoers even began running from the top of the pool area staircase to the dancefloor, in an effort to slide across it.

         The Hotel's most senior staff member present, Geraldine Thouvenin, witnessed these actions and proceeded to confront the groom, Michael Dixon, regarding the guests' behavior. Thouvenin warned the groom that this behavior was not recommended and was dangerous. The groom arrogantly disregarded Thouvenin's warning and, in outright defiance, went to the Hotel's kitchen, retrieved soap, and poured it on the dancefloor to increase its slipperiness.[4] Other wedding guests assisted the groom, pouring water and soap on the dancefloor to add to the "fun."

         At some point after the soap and water were poured, Blomquist left the reception and pool area to change into her bathing suit. When Blomquist returned to the reception area, she slipped and fell on the wet and soapy dancefloor, [5] fracturing her wrist and injuring her back.

         B. Procedural Background

         On November 1, 2013, Blomquist and Warner filed a complaint in the District of Puerto Rico on diversity jurisdiction grounds against the Hotel and its insurance company, Universal Insurance Group, Inc. Blomquist and Warner alleged that the Hotel was negligent in failing to provide a safe facility, allowing inherently dangerous conditions to continue, and neglecting to warn all parties at risk. Blomquist demanded $40, 909.18 in medical damages; $400, 000 for pain and suffering; $200, 000 for disability to engage in her normal life and career activities; and $250, 000 for mental suffering and anguish. Warner demanded $200, 000 for mental pain and anguish.

         A two-day jury trial was held on October 4 and 5, 2016.[6] After closing arguments, the jury was provided a verdict form with the following two-prong question (the "verdict question"):

Do you find by a preponderance of evidence that The Horned Dorset Primavera was negligent in the operation of the hotel facility at the wedding reception held in April 2013, and that its negligence proximately caused damages to Kristin Blomquist?

         The jury responded in the negative.[7] Accordingly, the district court dismissed Blomquist and Warner's claims and entered judgment in favor of the Hotel and its insurer.

         Dissatisfied, Blomquist and Warner moved for judgment as a matter of law. In the alternative, they requested a new trial. The district ...

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