Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Injury Claim In Airline Bumping Case

Sarah Gogal Passeri is an Associate in our New York office.

HIGHLIGHTS:

The Eleventh Circuit has held that an airline's bumping of a passenger is not an Article 17 accident, particularly as "it is systematic, widely practiced, and widely known" and "[t]here is nothing accidental about it." While tolling of a cause of action is not permitted in a Montreal Convention case, the ruling in Campbell v. Air Jamaica, Ltd. determined that a plaintiff's amended pleading may "relate back" to a timely filed original complaint. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Campbell v. Air Jamaica, Ltd.1 is a favorable one for the aviation industry. The court confirmed that non-economic damages, including emotional distress and physical injury damages, are not recoverable in an Article 19 delay case and that an Article 17 injury claim cannot arise from "bumping" a passenger.

Background

In Campbell, a pro se plaintiff sued the airline for damages stemming from the airline's bumping of the plaintiff from a flight from Kingston, Jamaica, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which allegedly caused him to suffer a heart attack. The plaintiff claimed that, following his check-in and arrival at the boarding gate, the airline denied him boarding, rescheduled him on a flight departing the next day and charged him a $150 change fee. The plaintiff also claimed he was denied hotel accommodations and was forced to sleep outside the terminal building in adverse weather conditions, causing him to fall ill. Upon arriving in Fort Lauderdale, he allegedly collapsed and suffered a heart attack.

Procedural History

In this case, the plaintiff's initial pleading alleged that the airline was negligent in bumping him from the flight, abandoning him without a place to stay and charging him a change fee to fly the next day. His amended complaint sought damages under Articles 19 and 17 of the Montreal Convention for his delay and personal injuries. The airline moved to dismiss the amended pleading on grounds that, inter alia, the plaintiff failed to state a claim under the Montreal Convention and that any such claims were time-barred by Article 35.2

The district court dismissed the claims with prejudice, finding that the plaintiff sought purely non-recoverable damages for delay and that his claims premised on bumping do not constitute an Article 17 "accident," i.e., an unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger. The lower court did not...

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