Products Liability Law Daily Airliner cabin decompression nets nearly $2.3M for injured passenger
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Monday, April 23, 2018

Airliner cabin decompression nets nearly $2.3M for injured passenger

By Georgia D. Koutouzos, J.D.

A Costa Rican passenger on a U.S. commercial flight that had to make an emergency landing after a hole appeared in the aircraft’s fuselage was entitled to approximately $1.5 million in damages for personal injuries she sustained as a result of the incident, plus another $798,000 in prejudgment interest, the Massachusetts federal court determined (Guzman v. Boeing Co., April 19, 2018, Dein, J.).

Six passengers on an October 2010 American Airlines flight from Miami to Boston allegedly sustained various physical and emotional injuries when the cabin of the aircraft on which they were traveling at 32,000 feet experienced rapid decompression after a hole suddenly appeared in the aircraft fuselage. The flight crew executed an emergency descent and returned to Miami International Airport, where a ground inspection revealed that a section of the fuselage crown skin measuring approximately 18 inches by seven inches had ruptured just above the forward left passenger door. The skin that ruptured measured 0.034 to 0.035 inches, while the minimum thickness for this skin specified by Boeing is 0.037 inches.

The passengers filed suit against Boeing Company, the manufacturer of the at-issue Model 757-223 aircraft with the cracked fuselage. According to the complaint in the passengers’ lawsuit, the company’s failure to have manufactured the fuselage skin on the subject aircraft to an appropriate thickness or strength constituted a manufacturing defect and/or a design defect. Among the causes of action asserted in the passengers’ lawsuit were negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.

The complaint alleged that Boeing had proximately caused permanent injuries to all the plaintiffs, as well as damages, including but not limited to, severe emotional distress, past and future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, past and future emotional distress, past and future mental disability, past and future economic loss, trauma, fear, fright, embarrassment, and any and all special and general damages allowed by law or otherwise, all in an amount to be proven at trial. The complaint requested a jury trial, the case was tried, and the jury returned a verdict related to one of the six passengers—a resident of San Jose, Costa Rica.

Jury verdict. In its verdict form, the jury found that the injured passenger proved by a preponderance of the evidence that she had sustained injuries that were proximately caused by the rapid-decompression incident. Accordingly, the jury determined that the amount of damages that would fairly compensate her was $2.2 million.

The jury also determined that Boeing proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the passenger had failed to take efforts that a reasonably prudent person in those circumstances would have taken to mitigate her damages. Therefore, the amount of damages that she would have avoided had she taken such actions was $726,000, the jury found.

Judgment. Based on the jury’s answers to the special questions posed by the court, judgment was entered for the injured passenger against Boeing in the amount of $1,474,000, plus prejudgment interest of $797,651.60 (12-percent rate) for a total of $2,271,651.60, plus post-judgment interest at 2.06 percent.

The case is No. 13-12615-JGD.

Attorneys: Elaine W. Sharp (Whitfield Sharp & Hitchcock, LLC) for Cheryl Carnevale. Daniel P. Ridlon (Perkins Coie LLP) and Kathleen M. Guilfoyle (Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy, PC) for Boeing Co.

Companies: Boeing Co.

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