USA: Appelate court confirms limitation of liability clauses in airline's "Conditions of Carriage"

Michael Wukoschitz's picture

On September 26, 2008, appellants purchased two round-trip airline tickets from American Airline’s website. The y received an “E-Ticket Confirmation” which in the bottom line of the message stated: “A summary of Terms and Conditions of travel is available by selecting the Conditions of Carriage button below.” The referenced Conditions of Carriage clearly state that the ticket and the Conditions of Carriage “constitute the contract.”

On December 21, 2008, after appellants arrived at Reagan National Airport for flight 1219, they were informed that the flight was delayed. Concerned that this delay would cause them to miss their connecting flight, appellants requested a refund or seats on another flight. However, when AA represented that, despite the delay, it would provide appellants with the connecting flight from Miami to Key West, they agreed to board the delayed flight.

When flight 1219 arrived at Miami International Airport, the appellants were instructed that they had fifteen minutes to traverse the airport to arrive at the departure point of their connecting flight. They ran through the airport where construction was ongoing, and they inhaled debris. When appellants arrived at the gate, they were denied entry to the flight because they did not arrive thirty minutes prior to the scheduled flight time. AA provided appellants with no substitute flight that night but paid for a hotel room and provided them with a stipend for dinner and breakfast. On December 22, 2008, appellants boarded flight 4833 from Miami and arrived in Key West later that day.

Appellants filed a five count complaint in the Circuit Court for Howard County for:

  1. Negligent Misrepresentation–Booking,
  2. Intentional Misrepresentation–Booking,
  3. Negligent Misrepresentation–Airport Departure,
  4. Intentional Misrepresentation–Airport Departure , and
  5. Intentional Misrepresentation–Miami International Airport Departure.

The complaint sought USD 10,000 in compensatory damages and USD 10,000 in punitive damages for each plaintiff. Upon AA's motion, the court granted a summary judgement reasoning that the Conditions of Carriage precluded appellee’s liability for delays and/or missed connections, appellants had not provided any specific facts or shown that they suffered any damage
as a natural and proximate consequence of AA's actions, and the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 40101 et seq. (the “ADA”), preempted the enforcement of Maryland tort law in this context.

The appelate court held that the ADA and regulations authorized by it permitted AA to incorporate by reference the Conditions of Carriage to the “E-Ticket Confirmation” email and that they were part of the contract between appellants and AA. Pursuant to these Condtioins of carriage "no agent, employee or representative of American has authority to alter, modify or waive any
provision of the Conditions of Carriage unless authorized in writing by a corporate officer of American." Even if an agent’s statement could be considered an oral modification of the Conditions of Carriage, such a modification would be void under this
non-modification clause. The Conditions of Carriage also stated: “American is not responsible for or liable for failure to make
connections, or to operate any flight according to schedule, or for a change to the schedule of any flight. Under no circumstances shall American be liable for any special, incidental or consequential damages arising from the foregoing.” and that “times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract”.

The court concluded that as there was no genuine disputes of material fact, AA was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

Case: Lavine v. American Airlines, Inc. (Md. Special App. Dec. 1, 2011); find full opinion here>>.

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