Airline summary judgment motion denied in jetway incident case

Gunther v. AirTran Holdings, Inc. (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2007).  The passenger sustained injuries when she fell out of the motorized wheelchair she was operating on a jetway used for boarding a flight at LGA.  She brought a negligence action against the airline, which moved for summary judgment.

The airline’s first argument was that it did not owe the passenger a duty of care because it did not “own, lease, occupy, maintain or control” the jetway.  The court rejected this argument, holding that the airline, as a common carrier, owed a “well-settled” duty arising under New York law to provide prospective passengers with a “reasonably safe” entrance onto its aircraft.

The airline then argued that it did not breach its duty of care (assuming it had one) and that the passenger was solely responsible for causing her injuries.  The court held that summary judgment on these issues was improper given the parties’ many factual disputes, including as to the number of airline employees escorting the passenger along the jetway, the slope of the jetway and the speed of the passenger’s wheelchair.

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