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ROLNICK v. EL AL ISRAEL AIRLINES

October 15, 1982

MOLLIE ROLNICK and HARRY ROLNICK, Plaintiffs,
v.
EL AL ISRAEL AIRLINES, LTD., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 McLAUGHLIN, District Judge

 Plaintiffs, husband and wife, bring this action against defendant airline for personal injury sustained in an Israeli airport prior to an international flight. It is undisputed that the Warsaw Convention provides the basis for liability, if any. Article 17 of that document provides:

 
The carrier shall be liable for damage sustained in the event of the death or wounding of a passenger or any other bodily injury suffered by a passenger, if the accident which caused the damage so sustained took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking. 49 Stat. 3000 (1934).

 Defendant moves for summary judgment, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is granted as to the Warsaw Convention basis of liability, but denied in all other respects.

 FACTS

 Plaintiffs were in Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel to board a flight for the United States. As with all commercial flights, there were several steps that passengers had to take before boarding the plane: submission of baggage to security inspectors for clearance check-in; obtaining of baggage checks and boarding passes; passage through passport control; hand baggage check; passage through departure gate (sometimes preceded by a period of time in the "general" waiting area); surrender of tickets; and procession to connecting buses.

 Plaintiffs had checked their baggage and obtained their boarding passes, but had not yet gone to passport control, when Harry Rolnick slipped on an escalator and fell backward on Mollie Rolnick, who was standing directly behind her husband. Mollie, in turn, fell backward and suffered injuries. Her husband helped her to her feet. After Mrs. Rolnick had rested for a few moments, the Rolnicks, not wishing to miss their plane, proceeded to passport control. While on the plane, plaintiffs allegedly attempted to procure medical care from defendant, but were unsuccessful.

 THE LAW

 A. The limitation of liability under Article 17 of the Convention

 There is a sharp distinction under the Convention between a carrier's liability for personal injuries and for property damage. The Convention does not impose liability upon an airline for all personal injuries incurred while a passenger is in the airport preparing for departure. By contrast, if there is damage to goods or baggage, liability attaches from the time the goods or baggage arrive at the airport of departure until the time they leave the airport of arrival. The reason for the distinction is obvious:

 
Because passengers have volition, and can get themselves into situations of peril which inanimate articles such as goods and baggage cannot do, liability should be limited to those times when a passenger is exposed to the dangers of aviation. Although most accidents occur while passengers are on board the aircraft, it is obvious that a passenger may be exposed to certain risks inherent in aviation before he actually boards the plane, and after he has left the plane.
 
Day v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 393 F. Supp. 217, 222 (S.D.N.Y.) (mem.), aff'd, 528 F.2d 31 (2d Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 890, 50 L. Ed. 2d 172, 97 S. Ct. 246 (1976).

 The "risks inherent in aviation" include injuries that occur while a passenger is embarking and disembarking, and the Convention imposes liability for such injuries. The task of fixing the point at which embarking begins and ...


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