PLONKA v. U.S. AIRWAYS
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY CHIEF JUDGE PETRESE B. TUCKER ON 10/27/15. 10/27/15 ENTERED & E-MAILED. COPY MAILED TO PLONKA. COPY FORWARDED TO ARBITRATION. (fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
October 27, 2015
Presently before the Court is Defendant US Airways’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 23) and pro se Plaintiff Andreas Plonka’s Response in Opposition (Doc. 25). Upon careful
consideration of the parties’ submissions and exhibits and for the reasons set forth below, this
Court will GRANT Defendant’s motion.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On June 19, 2012, Plaintiff Andreas Plonka flew from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to
Frankfurt, Germany on Flight 702, operated by Defendant US Airways. The aircraft on which
Plaintiff flew was an Airbus A330-200 bearing US Airways tail number 0281 (“Subject
Aircraft”). Plaintiff was seated in the economy cabin of the Subject Aircraft. Underneath the
seat in front of Plaintiff was an in-flight entertainment (“IFE”) box, a hard plastic box that
housed the wiring for seat-back entertainment systems. An IFE box was affixed under one seat
in each group of contiguous seats such that the Subject Aircraft had a total of ninety IFE boxes.
Airbus, the manufacturer of the Subject Aircraft, installed the entertainment systems and
IFE boxes in compliance with a design approved by the Federal Aviation Administration
(“FAA”). Airbus delivered the Subject Aircraft to US Airways with the IFE boxes pre-installed
and US Airways did not alter the design or placement of the IFE boxes between the date of
delivery and the date of the flight at issue. The IFE box in front of Plaintiff, which was bolted to
the seat, was on the floor next to Plaintiff’s right leg. During takeoff, Plaintiff’s leg struck the
IFE box and he sustained an injury to his leg.
Plaintiff filed a Complaint against US Airways on December 23, 2013 and an Amended
Complaint on March 16, 2015. Plaintiff sought compensatory damages for his injury. The Court
denied US Airways’ motion to dismiss on June 2, 2015. After a period of discovery, US
Airways filed the present motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff filed a response in
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if
the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” A “material” fact is one “that might affect the outcome
of the suit under the governing law[.]” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A dispute over a material fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.
The movant has the initial burden of “identifying specific portions of the record that
establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410, 416
(3d Cir. 2015). If this burden is met, the nonmoving party has the burden to “go beyond the
pleadings and come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’”
Id. (emphasis omitted) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
578 (1986)). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe all
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Santini, 795 F.3d at 416.
Plaintiff’s claim arises under the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for
International Carriage by Air (“Montreal Convention”). The Montreal Convention is an
international treaty that covers “all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed
by aircraft for reward” and provides for the rights and liabilities of international air carriers and
passengers. Montreal Convention art. 1, May 28, 1999, S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-45, 1999 WL
33292734, at *29, ICAO Doc. 9740. Article 17 governs liability for personal injury:
The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a
passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury
took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of
embarking or disembarking.
Montreal Convention art. 17, S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-45, 1999 WL 33292734, at *33. Under this
provision, the carrier is liable when three conditions are satisfied: (1) a passenger suffers bodily
injury (2) in an accident that occurred (3) while on board, embarking, or disembarking.
Terrafranca v. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., 151 F.3d 108, 110 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Eastern
Airlines, Inc. v. Floyd, 499 U.S. 530, 535-36 (1991)).
The primary question here is whether Plaintiff’s injury was caused by an “accident” as
defined under the Montreal Convention. An “accident” is “an unexpected or unusual event or
happening that is external to the passenger.” Air France v. Saks, 470 U.S. 392, 405 (1985)
(interpreting identical language from the Warsaw Convention, which preceded the Montreal
Convention); cf. Montreal Convention art. 17 note, S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-45, 1999 WL
33292734, at *16 (“It is expected that this provision will be construed consistently with the
precedent developed under the Warsaw Convention and its related instruments.”). The Montreal
Convention refers to “an accident which caused the passenger’s injury, and not to an accident
which is the passenger’s injury.” Air France, 470 U.S. at 398. “This definition [of ‘accident’]
should be flexibly applied after assessment of all the circumstances surrounding a passenger’s
injuries.” Id. at 405. “But when the injury indisputably results from the passenger’s own
internal reaction to the usual, normal, and expected operation of the aircraft, it has not been
caused by an accident[.]” Id. at 406.
The parties do not dispute the material facts. On Plaintiff’s flight, up to ninety
passengers including Plaintiff were seated behind an IFE box. Fesenmyer Decl., ¶¶ 23-30, Doc.
23-3; Plonka Dep. 48:3, Sept. 18, 2015, Doc. 23-2. The installation of the IFE boxes was in
compliance with an FAA-approved design. Fesenmyer Decl., ¶¶ 18-19. The IFE box in front of
Plaintiff’s seat was not defective or altered in any way. Fesenmyer Decl., ¶ 21; Plonka Dep.
49:19-22. Plaintiff’s injury occurred when his leg struck the IFE box during takeoff. Plonka
The Court finds that Plaintiff’s leg injury did not result from an “accident” and US
Airways is not liable. Seating Plaintiff in a seat where an IFE box was affixed was not an
“unexpected or unusual event or happening” since the IFE box was part of the Suspect Aircraft’s
approved design and up to eighty-nine other passengers were similarly seated. See Air France,
470 U.S. at 405. In analogous cases, courts have held that an airline is not liable for injuries
arising from the normal arrangement and operation of aircraft seats. See, e.g., Potter v. Delta Air
Lines, Inc., 98 F.3d 881, 884 (5th Cir. 1996) (finding that a fully reclined seat is not an unusual
or unexpected event or happening on an airplane); Zarlin v. Air France, No. 04-CV-07408, 2007
WL 2585061, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 6, 2007) (stating that the sudden, violent reclining of a seat
was unlikely to be an “accident” under the Warsaw Convention, but denying summary judgment
on other grounds); Louie v. British Airways, Ltd., No. A01-0329, 2003 WL 22769110, at *6 (D.
Alaska Nov. 17, 2003) (finding that a comfortable seat with a leg rest is not an unexpected or
unusual event in business class). But cf. Phifer v. Icelandair, 652 F.3d 1222, 1224 (9th Cir.
2011) (finding FAA requirements to be relevant to a district court’s “accident” analysis, but not
Plaintiff argues that “regardless of the unusual behavior or not, the plaintiff suffered the
injury and is still suffering from it.” Pl.’s Resp. in Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., Doc. 25.
He concludes, without citation to case law, that “US Airways is responsible and should
compensate the plaintiff for it.” Id. According to the Supreme Court, however, “it is the cause
of the injury—rather than the occurrence of the injury—that must satisfy the definition of
‘accident.’” Olympic Airways v. Husain, 540 U.S. 644, 650 (2004) (examining the Supreme
Court’s decision in Air France v. Saks, 470 U.S. 392 (1985)). Though this Court is sympathetic
to Plaintiff’s plight, no legal redress is available because the cause of Plaintiff’s injury was not
an “accident” under the Montreal Convention.
For the reasons explained herein, the Court concludes that Plaintiff’s injury did not arise
from an “accident” under the Montreal Convention. Accordingly, US Airways’ motion for
summary judgment is GRANTED. An appropriate order follows.
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