A federal appeals court has ruled that a passenger struck by a falling briefcase can sue United Airlines for negligence.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a damage lawsuit filed by Billie Andrews of Sunnyvale, Calif., who claimed she suffered severe head injuries when the briefcase fell from an overhead luggage compartment and struck her in 1990.The ruling by a three-judge panel reversed the court's previous order upholding a federal judge's dismissal of the lawsuit in 1992.
The appeals court said Andrews should have had an opportunity to prove that United could have modified the overhead luggage compartments or taken other stops to prevent baggage from falling because airlines have a "heightened duty of care" to their passengers.
Testimony before Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong revealed that United Airlines had 135 reports of baggage falling from overhead compartments in 1987 and pioneered the now-standard warning to passengers to open them carefully because luggage may have shifted.
Andrews, a computer software saleswoman, has not worked since being struck by the briefcase, according to her attorney.
Philip Diamond, an attorney for United, said the airline was "disappointed" with the ruling and was considering an appeal.