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Jon Stern Featured in Article Detailing A Recent Third Circuit Decision on Airlines and Tort Actions

On July 12, 2010 by Schnader in Appellate

Jon Stern was featured in a July 12 article in The Legal Intelligencer titled, “3rd Circuit Green-Lights State Tort Action by Airline Passenger,” which detailed the Third Circuit’s recent decision in Elassaad v. Independence Air, Inc., No. 08-3878, (3d Cir. July 6, 2010). The case was also featured a recent article that was published in BNA’s United States Law Week. Mr. Stern represents Independence Air in the matter.

The case involved a law suit brought by the plaintiff after he was injured exiting an Independence Air flight in February 2004. After initial proceedings in the case, Independence Air moved for summary judgment, arguing that the controlling standard of care, as dictated by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), obligates an airline to provide assistance only upon request, and the plaintiff admitted that he had not asked for assistance. Independence also argued that the regulations implementing the ACAA should be read to pre-empt state law negligence standards. Senior U.S. District Judge Edmund V. Ludwig of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment in favor of the airline, holding that the Third Circuit’s decision in Abdullah v. American Airlines Inc., 181 F.3d 363, 365 (3d Cir. 1999), dictated the standard of care for the plaintiff’s negligence suit and that the ACAA imposed no affirmative duty to offer assistance to a disabled airline passenger.

On appeal, however, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Third Circuit reversed, distinguishing Abdullah on the basis that it focused on claims of passengers injured in-flight because of a failure to warn about turbulence. Consequently, the Abdullah decision should only be read to apply to the specific context of in-flight safety. Further, the court held that the regulations under the Aviation Act do not specifically regulate the conduct of the crew in connection with the loading or unloading of passengers but instead have as their primary purpose the prevention of accidents, and the assurance of passenger safety, in connection with a flight. Thus, the court held, “[t]hat a flight crew’s oversight of the disembarkation of passengers — after a plane has finished taxiing to the gate, and its crew has opened the aircraft’s door and lowered its stairs — does not constitute ‘operations’ for the purpose of air navigation.”

In an interview with the Legal, Mr. Stern said the airline has not yet decided whether it will pursue further appellate options such as seeking a rehearing before the full Third Circuit or a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.