RKC Successfully Defends American Airlines in Personal Liability

09.15.08

MIAMI, FL –  Summary Judgment was granted in favor of American Airlines, Inc. after a woman sued claiming she was injured while walking up an inoperable escalator at Miami International Airport

Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell Attorneys, Gregory M. Palmer and Shannon Campbell Fitzpatrick represented American Airlines in the case. 

The plaintiff, Brigitte Espinoza Ugaz, filed a lawsuit contending American Airlines and Miami-Dade County, d/b/a Miami International Airport  were liable for injuries sustained while exiting an international flight at Miami International Airport.  In the thirty-three page, published court opinion, the Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Federico A. Moreno, entered an Order absolving both American Airlines and Miami-Dade County from liability. 

Notwithstanding Plaintiff’s argument to the contrary, the Court found that Plaintiff’s claims against American Airlines were governed by the Montreal Convention which provides that an air carrier is liable only for damages sustained when there is an “accident,” which causes death or bodily injury, that “occurs onboard the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.”  In applying the Convention to Plaintiff’s claims, the Court determined Plaintiff’s fall did not constitute an “accident” as defined by the Convention, thereby relieving American Airlines from liability.   In its opinion, the Court noted that even if the Plaintiff had demonstrated an “accident” as defined by the Convention occurred, Plaintiff’s negligence was the cause of Plaintiff’s alleged injuries which would also warrant the entry of summary judgment under the Convention. 

The Court further noted that even if the Montreal Convention did not apply to Plaintiff’s claims, Plaintiff was also barred from recovering against American Airlines under a theory of negligence. Among the many reasons supporting the Court’s ruling were the facts that an inoperable escalator, standing alone, is not unreasonably unsafe and that there was no evidence that the Defendants had actual or constructive notice of the inoperable condition of the escalator.

Defendant, Miami-Dade County d/b/a Miami International Airport joined American Airlines’ Motion for Summary Judgment.  The Court also entered final summary judgment on behalf of Miami-Dade County. 

This is not the first time Florida-based Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell has delivered positive results for Texas-based American Airlines.  In May 2008, Palmer defended American Airlines in Bateman v. American Airlines and GAT Ground Support which involved a quadriplegic Plaintiff, who claimed injury as a result of improper handling during multiple transfers while aboard American Eagle and American Airlines flights.  After the Plaintiff requested in excess of $1 million dollars in damages during closing argument, the jury returned a verdict of $2,000 for the Plaintiff of which American Airlines was responsible for 52%.   In 2007, Palmer and Fitzpatrick obtained a defense verdict on behalf of American Airlines in an action where a postal truck driver claimed he was injured when an American Airlines lavatory truck backed into his vehicle on the Miami International Airport tarmac.

Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell Partner, Gregory M. Palmer represents clients in several areas, including general aviation litigation, commercial litigation and the defense of employers in disputes arising from the employment relationship. His practice also includes the defense of professional liability claims, general casualty matters, product liability cases and construction litigation.  Palmer works out of the firm’s Miami office. 

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Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell provides litigation and counseling services in a wide range of civil practice areas including products liability, commercial litigation, intellectual property, environmental, employment, insurance, professional liability, health care and administrative law. Offices are located in Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Tallahassee and Birmingham, Alabama.

 
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