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U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida

The plaintiff was a 41-year-old passenger on the defendant’s airline in route from Trinidad to Miami, Florida, when he suffered a stroke. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to provide appropriate medical assistance, or to divert the aircraft to a closer airport. As a result, the plaintiff alleged that the outcome of his stroke was worsened, and he sustained permanent physical and cognitive damages. The defendant maintained that the plaintiff did not establish that the crew responded to his medical emergency in an “unexpected or unusual” way to satisfy liability under the applicable international treaty, the Montreal Convention of ________. Additionally, the defendant maintained that, even if the crew’s actions triggered liability and delayed medical treatment, the medical evidence showed that the plaintiff’s condition would not have been any different, and therefore, the plaintiff had not proven damages.

On December 15, ________, the plaintiff was traveling on board defendant’s aircraft with his sister (a nurse’s aide). Approximately 90 minutes into the flight, the sister noticed that her brother was not feeling well, and notified the flight attendant, who upon observing the situation, believed plaintiff was having a stroke.The flight attendant alerted the Purser, who also assessed the situation, and did not believe the plaintiff was having a stroke. The plaintiff was placed on oxygen and provided a nitroglycerin tablet to prevent cardiac arrest. The Purser notified the cockpit that there was a passenger who was ill, and that the situation was being monitored. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff slumped over in his seat, and the Purser notified the cockpit, that the situation had become serious. The Purser also used the aircraft intercom to page for medical personnel on board. After several such pages, a second-year medical student identified himself, and was taken to assist. Upon his arrival at the scene, the medical student believed the passenger was having a stroke. Meanwhile, the cockpit contacted MedLink, a medical advisory service for airlines, which advised that plaintiff should be treated at a hospital “within a couple more hours,” and recommended that the flight divert to Nassau, Bahamas, because it was “the closest appropriate airport.” The defense argued that the Captain confirmed the recommendation as having been given and indicated his willingness to divert the aircraft to Nassau in the event he determined that to be the most suitable course of action after gathering all relevant information. The Captain also directed the First Officer to obtain clearance from Miami air traffic control to divert the flight to Nassau.The Captain contacted the airline Systems Operations Control to assist in determining the nearest suitable airport from a ground operations perspective for the plaintiff’s condition. The flight continued to Miami where the plaintiff was treated for stroke. He has been left with maximum and severe widespread mental and cognitive impairments and severe physical deficits. The plaintiff claimed a total disability from employment and is incapable of independent living. The plaintiff was employed as a pool contractor prior to the stroke. The plaintiff alleged that the delay in receiving medical treatment worsened the outcome of the plaintiff’s stroke and resulted in a brain hemorrhage causing the permanent damages.

The defense contended that Operations advised the Captain that Miami was the more suitable airport, because ground staff in Nassau could not be reached to arrange for the diversion; however the Captain was told that emergency medical arrangements were available if the flight continued to Miami. During this call, the Captain testified that he was advised that the plaintiff was now able to move his arm and his condition seemed to be improving. The defense argued that the Captain, taking into consideration all relevant factors, decided that the nearest suitable airport was Miami, as the location where the plaintiff would receive the most expeditious medical care. The plaintiff’s sister also preferred that the flight continue on to Miami, according to defense arguments.The case was tried as a bench trial with a verdict for the defendant.

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