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Diaz v. American Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 23, 2015

KATIE DIAZ, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GREGORY H. WOODS, District Judge.

While returning home from vacation in Puerto Rico, Ms. Katie Diaz had the misfortune to slip and fall in front of an American Airlines ticket counter. Ms. Diaz sued American Airlines for negligence-after all, the accident occurred near an American Airlines ticket counter, in view of signs with that company's name. However, as the undisputed facts elicited during discovery established, American Airlines did not operate or control the area where Ms. Diaz fell; it was a common use area, maintained by the terminal's operator. As a result, American Airlines did not owe the plaintiff a legal duty, and may not be held liable for the plaintiff's injuries. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants summary judgment for the defendant.

I. BACKGROUND

The Accident

Ms. Diaz' accident occurred on a Sunday, October 7, 2012, at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Plaintiff's 56.1 Statement, Docket No. 33 ("P56.1") at ¶ 1. Ms. Diaz had arrived in Puerto Rico several days before for a short vacation to celebrate her birthday. Deposition of Katie Diaz, Docket No. 29-3 ("Diaz Examination") at 56. On the day of the accident, she was on her way home. She planned to fly from Puerto Rico home to New York on an American Airlines flight. P56.1 at ¶ 2.

Ms. Diaz' return trip began uneventfully: she printed her boarding pass from a computer kiosk, checked her luggage at the American Airlines ticket counter, and passed through the security checkpoint to the gate from which her flight was scheduled to depart. P56.1 at ¶¶ 3-4. After she arrived at the gate, however, Ms. Diaz heard her name paged over the public address system. P56.1 at ¶ 4. She asked several people where to go and, eventually, was directed back to the security area, where a Transportation Security Administration agent told her that he was the person who had paged her. P56.1 at ¶¶ 4-5.

The TSA agent instructed Ms. Diaz to follow him, and they passed back through the security checkpoint to an area in the main terminal near the American Airlines ticket counter. P56.1 at ¶ 5. As the TSA agent went behind the ticket counter, Ms. Diaz rounded a corner to position herself in front of the ticket counter. Id. Then, suddenly, she slipped and fell to the floor. Id.

At the time Ms. Diaz slipped, she had been looking up and straight ahead. P56.1 at ¶¶ 5-6. To her immediate left was the ticket counter, which extended down in front of her, and to her right was a Best Western hotel. P56.1 at ¶ 6. When she fell, she did not come into contact with the counter, which was approximately an arm's length away. Id. The plaintiff did not see any debris, substance, or defect on the floor immediately prior to her fall. P56.1 at ¶ 7. She testified that she could see well and that it was "bright, " but she noted that she could not have observed anything on the floor where she fell because she was turning a corner. Id.

As Ms. Diaz sat on the floor after her fall, she observed a clear puddle nearby, which, she testified, she assumed was water. P56.1 at ¶¶ 8-9. Ms. Diaz did not recall how far the water was located from where she was seated. P56.1 at ¶ 9. The puddle "was approximately the size of half a cup, " and "its diameter measured two widths of a hand." P56.1 at ¶ 8. The plaintiff was unaware of how long the water had been present or of what caused the puddle to be on the floor. P56.1 at ¶ 9. She did not touch it. Id. There were no footprints around the water, nor were there any signs or warnings in the area. Id.

Ms. Diaz did not see any cleaning or maintenance personnel or cleaning materials at the time of the incident. Immediately following her fall, however, she witnessed a manager direct a cleaning lady to mop up the water. P56.1 at ¶ 6. Ms. Diaz has no evidence that the manager worked for the airline, as opposed to the airport operator. Id. Previously, during the five to ten minutes she had spent at the ticket counter to check her luggage, Ms. Diaz had not observed any trash or water on the floor, nor had she observed any cleaners, warning signs, mops, buckets, or anything unusual in the vicinity of the ticket counter. P56.1 at ¶ 3.

The Terminal and the Defendant's Leasehold

Ms. Diaz describes the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico as "well, one big terminal with different airlines." Diaz Examination at 57:12-13. A number of airlines, including American Airlines, Delta, U.S. Airways, and Cape Air, operate ticket counters next to each other in the airport. Deposition of Lecaldo Sylvester, Docket No. 29-5 ("Sylvester Deposition") at 16:23-17:9. The airlines lease the ticket counters and the space behind the ticket counters. Id. at 18:15-21. Any area that is not leased exclusively by the airlines is common use space. Id. at 18:9-14. The area in front of the ticket counter, where Ms. Diaz fell, was not within American Airlines' leasehold. P56.1 at ¶ 1. Instead, it was part of the terminal's common use area. Id.

The common use areas of the airport are operated by the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (the "PRPA"). P56.1 at ¶ 1. The PRPA is responsible for maintenance of the common use areas of the airport. Sylvester Deposition at 18:9-14. The PRPA had retained a cleaning company, Perfect Cleaning Service, to maintain the area where Ms. Diaz fell. P56.1 at ¶ 1. Conversely, American Airlines did not hire cleaning companies to clean the various common use areas in the airport, including the area where Ms. Diaz fell. P56.1 at ¶ 13.

Mr. Lecaldo Sylvester, the Manager for Corporate Real Estate Properties for the Caribbean at American Airlines, provided uncontested testimony that when there is an incident at the airport, anyone who learns of the incident may contact the PRPA to initiate a response. P56.1 at ¶¶ 12, 14. If an incident occurs in a common use area, it is handled by the PRPA. P56.1 at ¶ 14. American Airlines is not notified by ...


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