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Schnader Achieves Victory for Independence Air

On July 12, 2011 by Schnader in Aviation

Schnader attorneys achieved a significant victory for Firm client, Independence Air Inc. in Joseph Elassaad v. Independence Air Inc. et al., which was before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The victory comes nearly a year after the Third Circuit ruled in the plaintiff’s favor after Independence Air’s initial win. Schnader’s team included Jonathan M. Stern and Jerry L. Tanenbaum.

In a suit brought against Independence Air, Joseph Elassaad, an amputee, claimed he fell off a plane’s staircase. The plaintiff argued that the steps were defectively designed and that Independence Air staff failed to offer him assistance as required under state law. According to the suit, Elassaad had lost his balance while walking down a plane staircase that had a handrail only on the left side. Elassaad claimed he struck his shoulder on the pavement and suffered torn cartilage that required surgery.

The Pennsylvania district court had earlier granted summary judgment to Independence Air, finding that the Federal Aviation Administration’s certification of the aircraft design placed design issues in the realm of federal, not state, law and that the federal Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) preempted the state’s negligence law. However, the Third Circuit found the ACAA is principally geared toward prohibiting discrimination against passengers with disabilities and does not fully take the place of state safety laws and regulations. The court reversed the initial ruling and remanded the matter back to the lower court.

Schnader consistently argued throughout the proceedings that the federal law obligates an airline to provide assistance only upon request, pointing out that it was undisputed that Elassaad had never asked for assistance. On June 23, a Pennsylvania federal jury sided with Independence Air, likely after deciding that plaintiff had been offered-but declined-assistance.

The case is Joseph Elassaad v. Independence Air Inc. et al., case number 2:05-cv-02328, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

News of the victory was covered in Law360 on June 24.