Jury Says No to Retrofitting Overhead Airline Storage Bins

Jury Says No to Retrofitting Overhead Airline Storage Bins

Partners Jeffrey S. Behar and Tina I. Mangarpan won a Federal Court jury trial for American Airlines that had far reaching implications for the airline industry.

In a case that had the potential of hoisting expensive requirements on the nation’s air carriers, a federal court jury ruled that American Airlines was not negligent in an accident in which a woman was injured by a metal briefcase that fell from an overhead storage bin.

The plaintiff sought punitive damages from the airline, as well as “remedial measures” that could have forced American and possibly other carriers to retrofit plane cabins by installing safety nets or other devices to prevent incidents such as the one that injured a 64-year-old passenger.

“This was going to be the bellwether to determine what was going to be required of them and whether the airline would have to retrofit the entire fleet,” said defense counsel Jeffrey S. Behar.

Plaintiff was a junior high school principal and was injured after the Boeing 757 she was flying in landed at National Airport in Washington, D.C. Following an unusually rough landing, a flight attendant made the standard announcement that cautions passengers about opening the overhead bins because their contents may have shifted.

While plaintiff was still in her seat, an unidentified man opened the overhead compartment, and his metal Samsonite briefcase fell out, striking her on the head and shoulder. She suffered a laceration, concussion and shoulder injury.

While the plaintiff obtained evidence that hundreds of American passengers had been injured from items falling from the overhead bins, the defense countered by presenting statistics that show only one in every million American passengers are injured in such a manner.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict for the defense.