While the statistics fluctuate widely over time, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that there is a "mishandled baggage rate" of roughly 1 per 100 passengers flying U.S. carriers. Considering those odds, it should come as no surprise that there is an entire line of cases devoted to airline liability in lost-baggage lawsuits.
An appellate decision which provides some insight into this area of law is Kodak v. American Airlines. In that case, Kenneth and Kaitlin Kodak lost two pieces of luggage on an international flight. A District Court Judge dismissed the Kodaks' case, finding that their claim exceeded the company's liability, as established by international treaty. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court and found the monetary limitation inapplicable due to the airline's failure to establish that the passenger ticket or baggage check had contained the appropriate disclaimer language and that either of those items had been delivered to the Kodaks.
Before remanding the case for an assessment of damages incurred by the Kodaks, the Appellate Term, 9th and 10th Judicial Districts, provided a methodology for calculating the award:
The measure of plaintiffs' damages for the loss of their personal property is the actual value of such property taking into account the original cost and relative newness and the extent, if any, to which it has deteriorated or depreciated through use, damage, age, decay or otherwise...Moreover, the testimony of the plaintiffs may be credited as to the personal property involved....A "Kodak moment," wouldn't you agree?
Before you cringe from that corn, on April 7, 2006, the Appellate Term, 9th and 10th Judicial Districts, again reviewed a baggage-liability claim brought against the same airline. In Korn v. American Airlines, Inc., the District Court awarded Abe Korn the sum of $2500, the governing limit of liability as set forth on the passenger's ticket and ticket jacket. The airline appealed, contending that the customer had failed to prove the value of the missing items with competent evidence. (The airline questioned the validity of the purchase receipt presented since the document did not reflect that any sales tax had been charged.) Citing the flexibility that exists within the context of small claims' court cases, the Appellate Term affirmed the trial court's determination and noted as follows:
In the case of personal property such as wearing apparel, the owner of such property, who is familiar with its quality and condition, may testify as to its value...With respect to the value of the items of clothing lost, the price paid for such articles of clothing when new establishes their value at the time of purchase....Certainly, Korn cobbed a victory in that case.
Interestingly, the 2006 Airline Quality Rating, a research report sponsored by the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and by Wichita State University, reveals that the U.S. airlines with the best on-time performance, and lowest number of denied boardings, mishandled baggage, and customer complaints were JetBlue, Air Tran, Independence Air, and Southwest Airlines. American and American Eagle rated tenth and fourteenth, respectively. Not surprisingly, the latter two airlines scored poorly in the baggage-handling category.
For a copy of the Kodak case, please click on the following link:
For a copy of the Korn case, please click on the following link:
For a copy of the 2006 Airline Quality Rating study, please click on the following link:
[Note: In the early 1970's, National Airlines implemented a controversial ad campaign which featured smiling female flight attendants (then called "stewardesses") who would offer a salutation, volunteer their first name, and then immediately follow that introduction with the phrase, "Fly me!" As part of what many viewed as a "sexist" pitch, the ladies' names were also painted on the noses of airplanes and the employees were required to wear "Fly Me" buttons on their uniforms.]