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Quevedo v. Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

August 13, 2019

Fanny Quevedo and Carlos Quevedo, Plaintiffs,
v.
Iberia Lineas Aereas de España, Sociedad Anónima Operadora Co., Defendant.

          OPINION ORDER DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW, OR ALTERNATIVELY, MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

          Robert N. Scola, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, or alternatively, motion for new trial filed the Plaintiffs, Fanny Quevedo (“Fanny”) and Carlos Quevedo (“Carlos”) (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”). (the “Motion, ” ECF No. 174.) Having considered the Motion, all opposing and supporting submissions, the entire record in this case, and the applicable law, the Court denies the Motion (ECF No. 174) as further described below.

         1. Background

         On May 15, 2015, Fanny was a passenger onboard Flight 3252, operated by the Defendant Iberia Lineas Aereas de España, Sociedad Anónima Operadora (“Iberia”) from Madrid, Spain to Milan, Italy. Fanny fell asleep during the flight. Mid-flight, the plane diverted to an alternate airport due to poor weather that had developed at the destination airport. Flight control at the alternate airport cleared the plane for descent and flight attendants secured the cabin for landing, including by conducting seatbelt checks of the cabin. Fanny remained asleep. A jacket or blanket covered her lap, obstructing view of her seatbelt buckle. Flight attendants did not wake Fanny or move the jacket or blanket. Her seatbelt was unfastened.

         Severe turbulence then struck the plane. This turbulence was so strong that the pilot lost control of the plane on multiple occasions. Fortunately, control was regained and the plane safely landed at the alternate airport. But Fanny had sustained serious injuries. Without her seatbelt harnessed, the turbulence threw her from her seat. As the plane dropped and shook, Fanny pinballed around the cabin, from ceiling to floor multiple times. She broke her back, her hip and her ankle, among other injuries.

         In 2017, the Plaintiffs filed this action asserting one count under Article 17 of the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air (the “Montreal Convention, ” S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-45) seeking recovery for injuries sustained during that flight, including a loss of consortium claim by Carlos who is Fanny's husband. The Plaintiffs demanded a trial by jury. Iberia answered and asserted affirmative defenses under Articles 20 and 21 of Montreal Convention for comparative negligence and to limit liability.

         In June 2018, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment. The Court granted the Plaintiffs' motion in part, finding the Plaintiffs had established their Article 17 claim as a matter of law. But the Court denied the parties' arguments directed at Iberia's affirmative defenses under Articles 20 and 21, identifying myriad factual disputes precluding summary judgment for either party on those defenses. For example, the Court observed that Fanny's “failure to secure her seatbelt” was a cause of her injuries that raised “an issue of comparative negligence appropriately addressed through Iberia's affirmative defense[] under Article[] 20 of the Montreal Convention.” (ECF No. 112 at p. 6.) As for Iberia's liability, the Court summarized that:

[A] reasonable juror could find that the impending turbulence onboard Flight 3252 necessitated a “fast check, ” such that Sanz's observation of the seatbelt ends on Quevedo's lap complied with Iberia's policy. Yet, there is a view of the facts that questions whether Sanz's failure to observe the seatbelt buckle renders his visual inspection noncompliant with even the “fast check” standard. Further, in light of Sanchez Ruiz's check of the business cabin, a reasonable juror could also find that sufficient time existed to conduct a normal seatbelt check, thus requiring Sanz, under Iberia policy, to wake Quevedo or move her jacket, neither of which he did. Put differently, there are disputes of fact as to the applicable Iberia policy governing Sanz's seatbelt check and whether his conduct complied with such policy.
Next, a reasonable juror could find that Captain Cereceda knew of severe turbulence and windshear in and around at Linate, yet proceeded to land Flight 3252 at that airport anyway, in violation of Iberia policy and industry standard. But a reasonable juror could also find that Captain Cereceda appropriately exercised the discretion granted to him by Iberia policy in landing Flight 3252 through known, strong turbulence and windshear at Linate, where the destination and alternate airports were not accepting air traffic, the plane had only thirty-minutes of reserve fuel, and the air traffic control at Linate cleared the plane for descent and landing. Thus, there is a dispute of fact as to whether Captain Cereceda's decision to divert and land Flight 3252 at Linate was negligent or wrongful under the circumstances. See Bannum, 901 F.2d at 996 (“If more than one inference could be construed from the facts by a reasonable fact finder, and that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact, then the district court should not grant summary judgment.”).
Finally, a reasonable juror could find that Iberia's flight plan complied with its internal policies and procedures, absolving Iberia of negligence or wrongfulness in its selection of alternate airports. At the same time, a reasonable juror might also find that Iberia knew of adverse weather at Milan, Genoa and Linate when creating the flight plan and was negligent or wrongful under the circumstances in failing to list a more distant alternate airport with a cleaner forecast.

(Id. at pp. 8-9.) The case then proceeded to trial, principally on the issues of the parties' comparative negligence and the Plaintiffs' damages.

         Over seven trial days, the parties presented their case to the jury. The jury heard live and recorded testimony from expert and fact witnesses, including Carlos, Fanny and other passengers, as well as from the pilot, purser and flight attendants on Flight 3252. The evidence adduced at trial was consistent with the Court's observations in the summary judgment order. At the close of Iberia's case, the Plaintiffs moved ore tenus for judgment as a matter of law on Iberia's comparative negligence defense, arguing that there was not a sufficient evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the Plaintiffs' injuries were caused by a negligent or wrongful act of Fanny. The Court denied the motion and gave the case to the jury.

         On January 16, 2019, the jury returned its verdict. For damages, Fanny's past and future medical expenses totaled $175, 000.00 and her pain and suffering amounted to $1, 000, 000.00. But on the comparative negligence defense, the jury found Iberia 1% liable with Fanny bearing 99% of the fault for her injuries. The jury also awarded Carlos nothing for his loss of consortium claim. On January 22, 2019, the Court entered an amended judgment in favor of Fanny and against Iberia in the amount of $11, 750.00, representing 1% of her total damages.

         After trial, the Plaintiffs timely renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and, alternatively, moved for a new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). (ECF No. 174.) Three arguments are raised in the Motion: (1) that “there was no legally sufficient evidentiary basis to support the jury's apportionment of 99 percent of the fault to” Fanny, such that the Plaintiffs are entitled to a directed verdict and a judgment in favor of Fanny for “the full amount of the damages that the jury found [she] had suffered, without reduction, ” (id. at pp. 12-14); (2) that the jury's apportionment of 99% of the fault to Fanny was “contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and a new trial on liability and damages is warranted, ” (id. at pp. 15-18); and (3) that the ...


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