Brief Fact Summary. Andrews (Plaintiff) an airline passenger, was hit in the head after a briefcase fell out of United Airlines’ (Defendant) overhead compartment. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Common carriers owe both a duty of utmost care and the vigilance of a very cautious person towards its passengers. The jury is equipped to decide whether an airline has a duty to do more than warn passengers about the possibility of falling luggage.
Issue. Is it proper for the jury to hear Plaintiff’s claim of negligence against Defendant, that the injury was foreseeable and Defendant was negligent in not preventing it?
Held. Yes. Summary judgment is not proper in this case. Reversed and remanded.
* Defendant is a common carrier and as such owes both a duty of utmost care and the vigilance of a very cautious person towards its passengers. Though Defendant is responsible for any, even the slightest, negligence and is required to do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under all circumstance, it is not an insurer of its passengers.
* In this case, Plaintiff introduced testimony of two witnesses. The first witness disclosed that Defendant had received 135 reports of items falling from overhead bins. As a result of this, Defendant added a warning to its passengers as part of their arrival message. The second witness then stated that the warning was ineffective because passengers could not see the contents of the overhead compartments, no baggage nets were used and/or Defendant did not limit the overhead compartments to lightweight objects.
* Defendant used Plaintiff’s 135 incident figure to point out the low incidence of injuries as incontrovertible proof that the safety measures suggested by Plaintiff were not necessary and would only add additional cost and inconvenience to airline passengers.
* The question is whether or not a warning is enough to safeguard airline passengers from baggage falling out of overhead bins. Given the heightened duty of Defendant, a common carrier, the court thought the question ought to go to the jury. A reasonable jury might conclude Defendant should have done more. A reasonable jury might also conclude that Defendant did enough. In any case, summary judgment is inappropriate.
Discussion. A common carrier has a heightened duty of care due to the fact that passengers are completely dependent upon them for safety precautions.