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

December 20, 2010

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.

Airline summary judgment motion denied in another trip and fall case

January 3, 2007

Doris v. Allegheny County Airport Authority and U.S. Airways, Inc. (W.D. Pa. Dec. 8, 2006).  Rather than waiting for the wheelchair he had requested that the airline provide, the elderly passenger decided to walk up the jetway on his own.  He “retrieved his wife’s walker from the jetway and placed both his and his wife’s carry-on luggage on top of the walker” and then pushed the loaded walker up the jetway.  Not surprisingly, he tripped over an expansion joint on the jetway floor and fell.

In the passenger’s lawsuit, the airline moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the expansion joint was an open and obvious condition, that the passenger had assumed the risk by walking up the jetway and that he had not exercised ordinary care because “he was not looking where he was walking.”  The court denied the motion, holding that there are material facts in dispute as to whether the expansion joint was an obviously dangerous condition, whether the defendants were negligent by not providing a warning sign or handrail near the joint and whether the passenger had exercised ordinary care.