The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS C. PLATT
Plaintiffs seek to recover from Aerovias Nacionales De Columbia ("AVIANCA") for the negligent infliction of emotional distress allegedly caused when AVIANCA Flight 052 crashed into the plaintiffs' property and for the property damage sustained by the crash. Defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 on the grounds that New York law does not allow recovery for purely emotional distress injuries, negligently inflicted, under the facts set forth in this case and that plaintiffs have already recovered for the property damage from Aetna Casualty and Surety Company ("Aetna"), their home insurer.
This Court partially grants defendant's motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is granted in favor of the defendants on the emotional injury issue as plaintiffs failed to provide evidence that the defendant owed them a direct duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach was the cause of their injuries. Additionally, plaintiffs' alternative tortious theory of intentional trespass does not preserve their personal injury claims. This Court denies summary judgment on the issue of the property damage claims to the extent plaintiffs seek to recover for uninsured losses.
On January 25, 1990, Avianca Airlines Flight 052, a Boeing 707 aircraft, crashed in the Village of Cove Neck, Nassau County, New York, killing sixty five passengers and eight crew members, and injuring eighty four passengers and one crew member. As the plane crashed into a residential neighborhood, injuries were sustained by non-passengers who were on the ground at the time of the accident.
Samuel and Nettie Tissenbaum, husband and wife,
were in their home located at 16 Tennis Court Road, Cove Neck, New York, at about 9:25 pm on January 25, 1990, when Avianca Flight 052 crashed into their backyard. At the time of the crash, Nettie Tissenbaum, who was seventy one years old, was in the shower and Samuel Tissenbaum, who was seventy six years old, was watching TV in a nearby room. At the moment of impact, Mrs. Tissenbaum heard what she thought was a "tremendous clap of thunder," felt the house shake and realized the power was out. See Deposition of Nettie Tissenbaum, August 21, 1991 at 13, Exhibit F to Holland Affidavit (hereinafter N.T. dep.). Mr. Tissenbaum thought an earthquake had occurred. See Deposition of Samuel Tissenbaum, August 21, 1991 at 94, 97, Exhibit F to Holland Affidavit (hereinafter S.T. dep.).
Upon hearing the loud noise, Nettie Tissenbaum ran out of the shower and into the room where her husband was. N. T. dep. at 14-16. Plaintiffs procured flashlights and went downstairs to see what had caused the loud noise and power outage. As they walked down the stairs, plaintiffs began to hear "weird" noises, "like animals caught in a trap," coming from the back of the house. S.T. dep., p. 94; N.T. dep. p. 17. When they arrived downstairs, Mr. Tissenbaum shone the flashlight through the glassdoors leading to their deck and plaintiffs were shocked to see that a plane had crashed into the deck and backyard. N.T. dep. at 19; S.T. dep. at 95.
Upon realizing the tragic situation, plaintiffs went back inside to call for emergency help but the phone was dead. Mr. Tissenbaum ran to his car to drive to the nearby police station when a neighbor told him help was on the way. S.T. dep. at 95.
When the firefighters first arrived they sprayed the deck with a chemical foam to protect it from any possible fire damage if there were a post-crash explosion. N.T. dep. at 23, 26. After securing the house against possible fire damage, rescue workers were in and out of the Tissenbaum household all night asking for water, using the bathrooms, and borrowing their linens and tools. N.T. dep. at 24-26; S.T. dep. at 103-104. The Tissenbaum garage became in effect "command central." Curious observers also entered the Tissenbaum property all through the night. S.T. dep. at 101.
The evacuation of the passengers finally ended at about 6:00 am. The dead bodies were placed on the Tissenbaums' driveway and in their garage. N.T. dep. at 29; S.T. dep. at 102. For days plaintiffs had no electricity, telephone service or running water, N.T. dep. at 29, and they could not leave their home as rescue vehicles blocked their passage. S.T. dep. at 103. For weeks the wreckage of the plane and heavy equipment remained on their property. N.T. dep. at 32-33.
A. Claims for Personal Injury
Plaintiffs contend that from the moment they heard the loud noise and throughout the ordeal that followed they were in great fear for their safety. Mrs. Tissenbaum claims she still suffers from great anxiety, fearfulness, phobias, premonitions of disaster, disorientation and depression, N.T. dep. at 31-32, and that her pre-existing diabetes condition was exacerbated by the accident so that it is difficult to stabilize her blood sugar levels and weight.
N.T. dep. at 80, 86-87. Allegedly, the crash caused Mr. Tissenbaum to suffer from anxiety, depression, insomnia and increased angina pains affecting his ability to perform routine tasks.
S.T. dep. at 126-27. Neither plaintiff suffered any direct physical injuries from the plane crash.
In light of the stress and emotional harm plaintiffs suffered as a result of this plane crash, plaintiffs seek personal injury damages on the theories that defendant committed negligent infliction ...