Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio August
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
CARRIERS VS. FLYERS IN COURT
Important lessons for planners from two lawsuits against
Two recent court rulings involving U.S. carriers have some
interesting ramifications for the meetings industry. First,
consider the case of the missing jewels. The United States District
Court in Chicago recently granted permission to a jewelry sales
representative to file suit against a carrier that refused to let
her carry on a piece of luggage containing $140,000 worth of
jewelry. The plaintiff, who was en route to a trade show in
Florida, claims the bag met the airline’s carry-on luggage size
requirements, but the carrier insisted she check it.
She never saw the bag or its valuable contents again. And the
carrier claims it is off the hook 100 percent, as its liability
limitation, normally $2,500, excludes certain items including
jewelry when packed in checked luggage. Interestingly, according to
the carrier’s policy, individuals assume responsibility for
There is no question that the limitation of liability was
disclosed. The issue, says the plaintiff, is that her bag met the
carry-on size requirements but she was prohibited from taking it
into the cabin.
In a previous appellate court decision on the case, the judge
noted a conflict in the laws governing liability, specifically in
regard to distinguishing negligence from a breach of contract.
The judge referred to an earlier case in which a passenger was
denied the right to carry her husband’s cremated remains on a
plane, despite the airline’s policy that “valuables should be
carried personally by the passenger.” The remains were checked and
were lost. In that case, the court held for the plaintiff on the
basis that the liability limitation was unenforceable because the
airline had breached its own contract of carriage.
While the case of the missing jewelry has yet to go to trial, it
presents an interesting dichotomy. The judge said if the bag met
the airline’s size requirements, but the plaintiff wasn’t allowed
to carry it aboard, the airline cannot limit liability, since it
has breached its contract. The bottom line: Don’t let go of
valuables and make sure the bag is small enough to fit under the
seat. Better yet, ship the items through an air cargo carrier and
insure them for their true value.
In another lawsuit, an appellate court ruled an airline was not
negligent for failing to have an automated external defibrillator,
or AED, aboard. This electronic device applies an electrical
current to restore the rhythm of the heart in the event of heart
failure during flight.
The details of the case: In 1995, a business traveler became
unconscious during a flight and could be not be resuscitated by the
crew; he subsequently died.
The plane was not equipped with an AED. At the time of the
incident, few, if any, airlines were stocked with defibrillators.
In fact, it was not until 2001 that the Federal Aviation
Administration began requiring all but the smallest aircraft to be
However, the carrier in question began outfitting its planes
with AEDs in 1997, an act the plaintiff claimed was an admission of
guilt after the death of the passenger. But the court disagreed
with the plaintiff, concluding the airline’s decision to install
defibrillators was not triggered by that unfortunate incident.
While the skies (and airports, too) might be safer today for
flyers due to the presence of AEDs, the case highlights the need
for the machines in other areas where large groups gather. Meeting
professionals should consider having these life-saving devices and
personnel trained in their use in or near meeting rooms, convention
centers and any other event venues.Jonathan T.
Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and
Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which
specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal
questions can be e-mailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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