ASCI404 - Airline Liability Discussion with Citation Requirements Satisfied

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Question: Beach Air Corp is a scheduled air carrier serving the southeastern US, Bahamas and Caribbean islands with regional turboprop aircraft. One morning, two Beach Air flights are boarding passengers on the regional airline ramp at Orlando, FL. One flight is non-stop to Key West, FL and the other is non-stop to Nassau, Bahamas.

As the passengers are walking from the terminal building to the ramp to board, a Beach Air ramp worker who is driving too fast loses control of a tug pulling a baggage cart and collides with one Key West-bound passenger and one Nassau-bound passenger, injuring both. Both injured passengers are Orlando residents who left home this morning planning to enjoy a week at the beach in their respective destinations, then fly directly home.

Analyze and evaluate Beach Air’s potential legal liability for each passenger’s injuries.

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The liability of Beach Air Corp for the two passengers’ injuries differs according to the general principles of liability.  To note, to analyze the legal liability of Beach Air Corp, there must be a duty of care, breach, causation, and injury (Hamilton & Nilsson, 2015).  Also, because it is the Beach Air ramp worker who was driving too fast and therefore collided with the passengers, vicarious liability is at issue(Hamilton & Nilsson, 2015).  Before discussing duty, Beach Air Corp will be subject to vicarious liability for the damage caused by its employee because the employee was within his scope of employment when he was driving a tug that was pulling a baggage cart.  Thus, the damage caused by the ramp worker and subsequent legal liability will be applied to Beach Air Corp.

            Then, the first issue is duty.  First, the passenger who planned to fly to Key West, FL is categorized as a domestic passenger because her ticket shows an origin and destination within the territory of the United States.  It was a non-stop flight and the passenger planned to go to Key West and return directly to Orlando.  Thus, this passenger is a domestic passenger.  Specifically, U.S. airlines have a higher duty of care toward domestic passengers, which amounts to the highest degree of care (Hamilton & Nilsson, 2015).  Beach Air Corp is a common carrier because it provides carry-for-hire services at a uniform rate that applies to every passenger.

            Thus, for this domestic passenger, Beach Air Corp and its employees must provide the greatest degree of human care and foresight possible so as not to injure a passenger.  And this degree of care applies to the period from the time when the passenger departs a safe place within the terminal to board the aircraft and continues to the time when the passenger reaches a safe place within the terminal after the flight is completed.  Here, the passenger left a safe place within the terminal because she was walking from the terminal building to the ramp.

            In this case, driving fast enough to lose control in the ramp area is not providing the greatest degree of care to prevent injury to passengers.  Thus, the employee and Beach Air via vicarious liability will be held liable.  There are no dollar limits for injury to passengers.  Thus, Beach Air will likely be responsible for a high amount of damage.  The passenger must look at the statute of limitations within the tariff shown on her ticket to file her claims.

            On the other hand, the Nassau-bound passenger is an international passenger because her ticket shows her origin in one country, the U.S., and her destination in another, the Bahamas.  Then, Beach Air’s legal liability should be determined by the Warsaw Convention, the Montreal Agreement of 1956, and the Montreal Convention of 1999.  The Warsaw Convention is an aviation industry-friendly convention that protects international airlines against catastrophic loss in event of a crash.  The Warsaw Convention, however, is modified by the Montreal Agreement of 1956, and the Montreal Convention of 1999 (Hamilton & Nilsson, 2015).  Under these international laws, passenger injury falls under strict liability and dollar limits on airline liability for passenger injury.  Thus, although this passenger may bring suit in the U.S. because it is where the ticket was bought, her claims will not be as limitless as those of the Key West-bound passenger.  Beach Air will be strictly liable for the first 100,000 Special Drawing Rights for the Nassau-bound passenger.  However, because Beach Air will not be able to show that it is free from any fault via the horrendous driving by its employee, 100,000 SDR will not be the limit and there can be recoverable compensatory damages above that level. 

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