Airline not liable to customer for trip and fall in TSA-controlled area

Narvaez v. American Airlines, Inc. (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 13, 2010).  After checking her baggage at American’s ticket counter at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the plaintiff proceeded to the security checkpoint.  After presenting her passport to a TSA employee at the checkpoint, but before going through the metal detector, the plaintiff tripped over the upturned corner of a rug and fell forward, her arms, forehead and knees striking the floor.  The plaintiff was taken by ambulance to a hospital, but she returned to JFK and took a flight later that same day.

The plaintiff sued American in state court, alleging that her injuries resulted from American’s negligence.  The airline removed the case on diversity grounds and, after discovery, moved for summary judgment.  American contended that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care in the area in which she fell because there was no genuine issue as to the fact that it did not occupy or control such area.  In support, American presented deposition testimony of its Manager of Passenger Services at JFK establishing that TSA, not American, exclusively occupied and controlled the security checkpoint area in which the plaintiff fell and that American did not own the rug at issue.

In opposition, the plaintiff argued that one could infer that American exercised control over the area at issue because airline personnel allegedly assisted TSA personnel in rolling up the rug and placing it in a corner after the plaintiff fell.  The court ruled that, even if American personnel did help move the rug, such act did not create a genuine issue of fact regarding the airline’s control over the area at issue, as its control could not be inferred simply because its personnel provided assistance after the incident.  Accordingly, the court granted American’s motion.

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