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Philadelphia County, PA

The plaintiff alleged, under Pennsylvania’s Good Samaritan Law, that the defendants intervened to assist the decedent when he became intoxicated at the Philadelphia International Airport, then negligently left him standing against a wall and caused him to fall. The decedent sustained a severe brain injury as a result of the fall and died of related complications during the course of litigation. A number of defendants, including several bars in the airport, settled the plaintiff’s claims for a total of $________ before trial. The trial defendants were Continental Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Continental Airlines maintained that its agent, a Skycap baggage handler, acted reasonably in attempting to assist the plaintiff and that plaintiff’s fall resulted from his high level of intoxication. The defendant, Southwest Airlines, argued that it had only limited contact with the decedent when he spoke with its customer service agent to cancel his reservation.

Evidence showed that the decedent was in a highly intoxicated state at the Philadelphia International Airport. The decedent had a flight with the defendant, Southwest Airlines, located in the airport’s terminal E. He cancelled the Southwest flight, indicating that he did not feel well. It was unclear why the decedent was on the sidewalk in front of Continental Airlines, in terminal D, at the time of the incident.

A Skycap, for which the defendant, Continental Airlines, was vicariously liable, noticed the decedent staggering on the sidewalk and went to his assistance. The skycap grabbed the decedent, put him against a wall and instructed him to stand still while he went to get a wheelchair. While the Skycap was retrieving the wheelchair, the decedent attempted to walk forward and fell, striking his head. The plaintiff’s human factors expert testified that when the Skycap grabbed the decedent and put him against the wall, the motion changed the decedent’s sense of balance. Although the decedent was staggering before the Skycap intervened, the Skycap’s actions ultimately led to his fall, according to the plaintiff’s human factors expert.

The plaintiff argued that once the defendant’s Skycap endeavored to assist the decedent, he should not have left him standing alone against the wall where he was likely to fall. The plaintiff argued that the defendant should have called for the assistance of someone else to retrieve the wheelchair while he held onto the decedent to prevent him from falling. The plaintiff also contended that the defendant, Southwest Airlines, was negligent in not recognizing that the decedent was highly intoxicated and required assistance when he cancelled his Southwest flight.

The decedent sustained a severe brain injury as a result of the fall. He underwent a series of seven brain surgeries. The plaintiff introduced photographs depicting expanders (balloon- like devices) in the decedent’s head following his brain surgery. The plaintiff was discharged from the hospital and was living with his parents. He suffered a series of strokes and required additional brain surgery. The decedent suffered a non-union of the skull and developed severe infection. He required 24-hour nursing care until his death from overwhelming sepsis approximately three years after the fall. It was not disputed that the decedent’s death was related to the fall at the airport.

The decedent was in his mid-50s and was employed in the pool sales business at the time of the fall. He was not married and had no children. The decedent was survived by his parents and a brother and sister. The plaintiff sought $1.7 million in past medical expenses and approximately $1 million in loss of future earnings.

The defendant’s human factors expert opined that the theory proffered by the plaintiff expert regarding changing the decedent’s balance, was not valid. The defense maintained the plaintiff’s fall was caused by his blood alcohol level which the defendant’s toxicologist placed at .________ at the time of the fall. An eye-witness, a Continental ticket agent, was called by the plaintiff as on cross. This witness testified that the decedent stood against the wall for a period of time and then started walking forward in the same staggering manner as he had been previously walking, and that he then fell and struck his head. The defendant argued that the decedent would have fallen regardless of the Skycap’s attempts to assist.

After a two week trial, the jury found that the defendant Southwest Airlines was not negligent. It found the skycap, for which the defendant, Continental Airlines, was vicariously liable, 26% negligent and the decedent 74% comparatively negligent, precluding recovery. The plaintiff’s post-trial motions are pending.

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