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LAHEY v. SINGAPORE AIRLINES

October 5, 2000

LAURA LAHEY, PLAINTIFF,
V.
SINGAPORE AIRLINES, LTD., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, District Judge.

Laura Lahey sues Singapore Airlines, Ltd. ("Singapore") for injuries she sustained when she was assaulted by a fellow passenger on a flight from Singapore to New York City via Amsterdam. She also seeks attorney's fees. The parties agree that this case is governed by the Warsaw Convention.*fn1

At the two-day bench trial, plaintiff's case consisted of Lahey's testimony and several exhibits. Defendant presented the testimony of Chee Yoke Seng, Quah Way Yan, and Chew How Yang as well as the deposition testimony of Claudien Rako. I found Lahey to be a very credible witness.

FACTS

The essential facts are not in dispute. Laura Lahey boarded Singapore Airlines flight SQ26 from Singapore to New York at approximately 11:15 p.m. on June 26, 1997. She was accompanied by her three children and their nanny, Maribec Putian. Lahey and her eldest daughter took their assigned seats in row forty-four of the aircraft. Putian and the other two children were seated directly in front of Lahey and her daughter, in row forty-three.

While the plane was still at the gate and Lahey was waiting for the other passengers to board the plane, she pushed her seat back fully in order to recline. Soon, Lahey noticed that the passenger seated directly behind her was "shoving his knees into the back of [her] seat." The parties agree that this passenger was F.W. DeKoning.

The flight pushed back from the gate and began taxiing to the runway shortly after midnight. By this time, Lahey had returned her seat to its full, upright position for taxi and takeoff. While the plane was taxiing, Lahey complained to flight attendant Claudien Rako that DeKoning had been kicking and pushing her seat. Rako asked DeKoning to stop pushing Lahey's seat. Rako also told the lead stewardess, Quah Way Yan, about Lahey's complaint. Quah then informed the in-flight supervisor, Chew How Yang, of the problem. Chew spoke to Lahey and DeKoning while the aircraft was taxiing and determined that DeKoning was upset because when Lahey's seat was in a reclining position, he did not have sufficient leg room. Chew advised DeKoning that he would try to solve the problem after takeoff.

After takeoff, as soon as the crew notified passengers that it was safe to push their seats back, Lahey pushed her seat back to recline. Again, she felt DeKoning pushing and kicking her seat. Lahey rang for a flight attendant, who told DeKoning to stop kicking and pushing the seat. It is clear from the testimony that Lahey complained about DeKoning's behavior several times.

After the meal service, approximately two hours into the flight, the crew was serving coffee and tea. Lahey noticed a beverage cart coming down the aisle and, in order to avoid the cart, took her pillow from the aisle side of her seat and placed it against her daughter's upright seat. Shortly thereafter, she was punched from behind through the gap between her reclined seat and her daughter's upright seat. The blow knocked Lahey's eyeglasses from her face. The frame of the glasses was broken, and one lens fell out. Lahey stood up and turned around. As she did, a food tray was thrown at her. Lahey was shouting at the DeKonings while cleaning food from herself and her daughter, when she was struck on the side of her head with a plastic entree dish. The blow caused a laceration of the scalp which bled. Quah escorted Lahey to the business class cabin to help her clean up. She gave Lahey ice to apply to her head to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, DeKoning and his wife were relocated to different seats.

Lahey later went to speak to Captain Chee. Chee asked Lahey if she wanted to press charges. Lahey said that she did. Chee notified the authorities in Amsterdam, and Mr. DeKoning was arrested upon the plane's arrival in the Netherlands.

Lahey suffered a cut on her nose and on her head in the assault. She was given ice by the crew and was seen by paramedics in Amsterdam. By the time the plane landed in Amsterdam, the bleeding had stopped. Lahey did not receive stitches. Lahey did not receive pain medication, and did not see a physician upon her return to New York. Lahey had a bump on her head and experienced soreness for approximately two weeks. She still has a small dent in her head, approximately the size of a dime, where she was struck.

APPLICABLE LAW

Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention defines an airline's liability for the personal injury of a passenger. Article 17 provides that:

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 ...


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