ANDREWS v. UNITED AIRLINES, INC. No. 92-16663.
24 F.3d 39 (1994)
Billie Jean ANDREWS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED AIRLINES, INC., a corporation; Does 1 through 50, inclusive, Defendant-Appellee.
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Decided May 13, 1994.
Philip R. Diamond, James C. Nielson, Peter M. Hart, Wright, Robinson, McCammon, Osthimer & Tatum, San Francisco, CA, for defendant-appellee.
Before: FLETCHER, KOZINSKI and TROTT, Circuit Judges.
Opinion by Judge KOZINSKI.
KOZINSKI, Circuit Judge.
We are called upon to determine whether United Airlines took adequate measures to deal with that elementary notion of physics— what goes up, must come down. For, while the skies are friendly enough, the ground can be a mighty dangerous place when heavy objects tumble from overhead compartments.
During the mad scramble that usually follows hard upon an airplane's arrival at the gate, a briefcase fell from an overhead compartment and seriously injured plaintiff Billie Jean Andrews. No one knows who opened the compartment or what caused the briefcase to fall, and Andrews doesn't claim that airline personnel were involved in stowing the object or opening the bin. Her claim, rather, is that the injury was foreseeable and the airline didn't prevent it.
The district court dismissed the suit on summary judgment, and we review de novo. Dorsey v. National Enquirer, Inc.,
The parties agree that United Airlines is a common carrier and as such "owe[s] both a duty of utmost care and the vigilance of a very cautious person towards [its] passengers." Acosta v. Southern Cal. Rapid Transit Dist.,
To show that United did not satisfy its duty of care toward its passengers, Ms. Andrews presented the testimony of two witnesses. The first was Janice Northcott, United's Manager of Inflight Safety, who disclosed that in 1987 the airline had received 135 reports of items falling from overhead bins. As a result of these incidents, Ms. Northcott testified, United decided to add a warning to its arrival announcements, to wit, that items stored overhead might have shifted during flight and passengers should use caution in opening the bins. ER 10. This
Ms. Andrews's second witness was safety and human factors expert Dr. David Thompson, who testified that United's announcement was ineffective because passengers opening overhead bins couldn't see objects poised to fall until the bins were opened, by which time it was too late. Dr. Thompson also testified that United could have taken additional steps to prevent the hazard, such as retrofitting its overhead bins with baggage nets, as some airlines had already done, ER 53,
United argues that Andrews presented too little proof to satisfy her burden under Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
It is a close question, but we conclude that plaintiff has made a sufficient case to overcome summary judgment. United is hard-pressed to dispute that its passengers are subject to a hazard from objects falling out of overhead bins, considering the warning its flight crews give hundreds of times each day. The case then turns on whether the hazard is serious enough to warrant more than a warning. Given the heightened duty of a common carrier, Acosta, 2 Cal.3d at 27,
The reality, with which airline passengers are only too familiar, is that airline travel has changed significantly in recent years. As harried travelers try to avoid the agonizing ritual of checked baggage, they hand-carry more and larger items — computers, musical instruments, an occasional deceased relative. See Jo Beth McDaniel, Final Call for Carry-On Cargo, Travel Weekly, Feb. 28, 1988, at 22; Valarie Basheda, Airline Sued Over Fallen Luggage Cart, Gannett News Serv., Dec. 3, 1992. The airlines have coped with this trend, but perhaps not well enough. Given its awareness of the hazard, United may not have done everything technology permits and prudence dictates to eliminate it. See Treadwell v. Whittier, 80 Cal. 574, 600, 22 P. 266 (1889) ("common carriers ... must keep pace with science, art, and modern improvement");
Jurors, many of whom will have been airline passengers, will be well equipped to decide whether United had a duty to do more than warn passengers about the possibility of falling baggage. A reasonable jury might conclude United should have done more; it might also find that United did enough. Either decision would be rational on the record presented to the district court which, of course, means summary judgment was not appropriate.
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