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ALLEYN v. PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK

July 13, 1999

CIELO ALLEYN AND JAMES ALLEYN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, DELTA AIRLINES, M.MANTEC, INC., MILLAR ELEVATOR SERVICE CO., AND SCHINDLER ELEVATOR CORP., INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Trager, District Judge.

OPINION

Plaintiffs, Drs. Cielo and James Alleyn, are suing The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Delta Air Lines, Inc., MMantec, Schindler Elevator Corp. and its unincorporated subsidiary Millar Elevator Service for personal injury, loss of consortium and other causes of action arising from injuries Dr. Cielo Alleyn sustained as a result of an escalator accident on October 6, 1995. Currently, all defendants (except the Port Authority) have moved for summary judgment on the issue of limiting liability under the treaty popularly known as the Warsaw Convention.*fn1

Specifically, Delta has moved for complete summary judgment and a total liability limitation of $75,000, alleging that Dr. Alleyn's accident took place while disembarking an international flight and thus falls under Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention. MMantec, as contractor and agent of Delta, has moved for partial summary judgment on the same ground or, in the alternative, has moved in opposition to Delta's motion. Schindler and Miller ("S & M"), as subcontractors of Delta and agents of MMantec, have moved to limit their collective liability to $75,000 as well. Plaintiffs have opposed these motions, alleging that Dr. Alleyn had finished disembarking when her accident occurred, that the provisions of the Warsaw Convention do not apply to MMantec and S & M, and that the liability limitation should not apply to any defendant because the injurious conduct was willful.

Background

(1)

On October 6, 1995 plaintiffs arrived at New York's JFK airport on Delta Flight 149. The Alleyns had departed from Miami, Florida on September 14 and flew to Madrid, Spain for a vacation which included travel in Madrid and Barcelona and a cruise to Venice, Italy. Although plaintiffs were to depart from Milan, Italy on October 6 to return to Miami through JFK, their reservations were changed; they flew to JFK on Flight 149 from Rome instead.

Plaintiffs arrived at Gate 5 in Delta's JFK Flight Terminal around 3:55pm on October 6. A Delta flight attendant stationed at the plane's door instructed the Alleyns to follow the line of deplaning passengers to the immigration and customs area. A Delta security agent was leading this line of passengers to the immigration area,*fn2 which is approximately 250 feet from the gate. (While plaintiffs' depositions reflect that neither of them remember the agent with certainty, Dr. Alleyn expressed her belief that the group of passengers was accompanied by an airline or terminal employee. See Exhibits to Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment in Favor of Delta Air Lines, Inc. Limiting Liability, Ex. B at 10(25) to 11(2)-(4) (transcript of the deposition of Cielo Alleyn).)

Flight 149's passengers proceeded south down an enclosed corridor for 52 feet. See id. at Ex. F. They then turned right into a second corridor where they proceeded in a westerly direction for 58 feet. See id. at Ex. G. The second corridor turned 90 degrees and emptied into a small down escalator (# 9), see id. at Exs. H, I, that led into a westerly corridor bisecting a main north-south corridor. See id. at Exs. J, M.

Both plaintiffs and defendants agree that another group of arriving passengers were in this main north-south corridor at the same time Flight 149 passengers were. However, these passengers, from a Swiss Air flight that arrived a few minutes before Delta's fight at a gate south of gate 5, were held in the corridor by a security agent until all flight 149 passengers had passed. See Pagnotta Aff. at 8.*fn3 From this corridor, the Delta passengers went west about 32 feet to a second down escalator (# 3) that led to immigration and customs. See Exhibits to Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment in Favor of Delta Air Lines, Inc. Limiting Liability, Ex. L. It was a step on this # 3 escalator that collapsed, trapping Dr. Alleyn's right leg in its mechanisms, causing serious injuries.

Plaintiffs do not dispute the following additional facts asserted by the defendants and germane to this motion:

1. The area traveled by Flight 149 passengers is a non-public ("sterile") portion of the terminal and leads only and directly from the plane to immigration;

2. Delta leased, operated and controlled this "sterile" area and was exclusively responsible for its management and maintenance at the time of the accident; and

3. No other passengers or unauthorized personnel had the ability to or did mingle with the ...


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