Pa. man's suit saying he suffered spinal injuries on United Airlines flight is dismissed

By Nicholas Malfitano | Mar 6, 2019

United Airlines  

PHILADELPHIA – A Pennsylvania man who claimed he was injured on a United Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Denver and sued the airline for breach of contract, breach of warranty and negligence has had the litigation dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

On Feb. 25, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Gerald J. Pappert dismissed Patrick J. Cyr’s complaint against United Airlines, Inc. and found that his negligence and contract-related claims are barred by both the Federal Aviation Act and the Gist of the Action doctrine.

“On Sept. 5, 2017, Cyr booked a round-trip flight from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Bend, Oregon with a layover in Denver, Colorado. He left Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2017 on United Airlines Flight 1968. Cyr alleges that the flight from Philadelphia to Denver ‘concluded with a terrifying, unusually violent and severe landing,' and he suffered undisclosed ‘spinal cord injuries’ as a result,” Pappert said.

“Cyr sued United in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 6, 2018, alleging negligence (Count I), breach of contract (Count II) and breach of express and implied warranties (Count III). United timely removed the case to this Court. United now moves to dismiss Cyr’s claims on two grounds: (1) The Federal Aviation Act preempts state law standards of care in the field of aviation safety and (2) The gist of Cyr’s lawsuit is a tort, so his contract claims are barred under Pennsylvania law.”

In order to establish a cause of action in negligence under Pennsylvania law, the plaintiff must show (1) The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, (2) The defendant breached its duty of care, (3) The breach resulted in injury to the plaintiff and (4) The plaintiff suffered actual loss or damage.

According to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, “Local law still governs the other negligence elements (breach, causation and damages), as well as the choice and availability of remedies,’ courts must apply the federal standard of care to determine whether relief can be granted for negligence claims within the scope of the FAA.”

“To sufficiently state his negligence claim, Cyr must allege that United breached the standard of care set forth by the FAA and relevant regulations. In the complaint, Cyr generally asserts that the pilots and crew on his flight were required to operate in accordance with United’s Flight Operations Manual, which “prohibited the negligent, careless or reckless operation of aircraft at any time.” The Complaint also states that “aviation industry standards, laws, regulations and guidance prohibited the negligent, careless or reckless operation of aircraft,” Pappert said.

However, while the lawsuit alleges United had a duty to operate “with the highest standard of care, in accordance with its Flight Operations Manual and with “aviation industry standards laws, regulations, and guidance”, nowhere does the complaint allege that United “violated the federal standard of care set forth in the FAA and relevant regulations.” Thus, Cyr’s negligence claim was dismissed.

Per Pappert, the Gist of the Action doctrine delineates between contractual and tort-claim based cases, with the distinguishing criteria being the nature of the duty the defendant allegedly breached.

“Cyr’s breach of contract and breach of warranty claims (Counts II and III of the complaint) allege injuries arising from United’s negligence while performing its contractual obligations to Cyr. The gist of this action is a tort. Although Cyr’s suit only arose because of his contract with United…the true subject matter of his allegations is United’s purported negligence or carelessness. Cyr is claiming that United violated broad social duties imposed by federal law. The parties’ contract merely served as the vehicle which established a relationship between them and Counts II and III of the complaint are barred by the Gist of the Action doctrine,” Pappert said.

“In his response, Cyr seeks leave to amend his complaint in the event the Court grants United’s Motion. He will be allowed to do so with respect to his negligence claim only as efforts to amend the breach of contract and warranty claims would be futile.”

The plaintiff is represented by John Joseph Gagliano of Gagliano Law, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Elaine D. Solomon, Christopher Cody Wilcoxson and Ethan Simon of Blank Rome, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:18-cv-04323

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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