USA: airline not liable for accident at TSA security control

Michael Wukoschitz's picture

Plaintiff went with her son to the American Airlines terminal at JFK airport, New York, to take a flight to the Dominican Republic. After she checked her baggage she went to the security checkpoint.  She presented her passport to a TSA employee at the checkpoint, but before going through the metal detector, plaintiff tripped over the upturned corner of a rug and fell forward, her arms, forehead and knees striking the floor.  After the fall, American employees and TSA personnel helped her into a chair, rolled up the rug and put it in a corner. Plaintiff was then taken to a hospital, but she returned to JFK and took a flight later that same day.

She sued American in state court, alleging that her injuries resulted from American’s negligence.  The airline removed the case on diversity grounds and, after discovery, moved for summary judgment.  American contended that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care in the area in which she fell because there was no genuine issue as to the fact that it did not occupy or control such area. 

The court ruled that, even if American personnel did help move the rug, such act did not create a genuine issue of fact regarding the airline’s control over the area at issue, as its control could not be inferred simply because its personnel provided assistance after the incident.  The security checkpoint area is a “federal facility” consisting of the area where the metal detectors and the x-ray machines are located. Those machines are owned by the TSA and operated by TSA employees. No one but a federal employee is permitted to work in that area of the terminal. Accordingly, the court granted American’s motion.

Full opinion and order of Dec. 13, 2010 in Case Narvaez v. American Airlines, Inc. available here>>.

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