Airline not liable for passenger self-spillage

Medina v. American Airlines, Inc. (S.D. Fla. Nov. 14, 2006).  After a flight attendant placed the passenger’s cup of coffee on his tray table, the passenger picked up the cup with one hand, felt it was hot, tried to steady it with his other hand and then spilled its contents onto his lap, causing “serious burns to his abdomen and groin area.”

During the non-jury trial, the passenger admitted that, after he felt the cup was hot, there was nothing preventing him from simply leaving it on the tray table to cool off.  The trial was essentially over at this point, since the plaintiff had “spilled the beans” that he, not the airline, was the proximate cause of his injuries.

Since the incident took place in 2001, the court analyzed the case under the Warsaw Convention.  The court noted that, under Article 20(1), a carrier is liable for a passenger’s injuries unless the carrier proves that it took “all necessary measures” (which the courts have interpreted to mean “all reasonable measures”) to avoid such injuries.  The court held that the airline had taken all precautions appropriate to the risk at issue and thus was not liable for the passenger’s injuries.

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