821 F.2d 1147 (5th Cir. 1987), 84-3832, In re Air Crash Disaster Near New Orleans

Docket Nº:84-3832, 84-3833.
Citation:821 F.2d 1147
Party Name:In re AIR CRASH DISASTER NEAR NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA ON JULY 9, 1982. Luis Alberto TRIVELLONI-LORENZI, and Susanna Electra Trivelloni-Lorenzi, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellants. Ernesto Serio PAMPIN LOPEZ, Individually and As Administrator of the Estate of His Deceased Mother Sara E. Lopez De P
Case Date:July 21, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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821 F.2d 1147 (5th Cir. 1987)

In re AIR CRASH DISASTER NEAR NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA ON JULY

9, 1982.

Luis Alberto TRIVELLONI-LORENZI, and Susanna Electra

Trivelloni-Lorenzi, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellants.

Ernesto Serio PAMPIN LOPEZ, Individually and As

Administrator of the Estate of His Deceased Mother

Sara E. Lopez De Pampin, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

PAN AMERICAN AIRWAYS, INC., and United States of America, et

al., Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 84-3832, 84-3833.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 21, 1987

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Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles, Francis G. Weller, Frederick R. Bott, Darrell K. Cherry, Robert E. Kerrigan, Jr., New Orleans, La., for defendants-appellants.

Stephen B. Murray, Romualdo Gonzalez, Patricia R. Murray, New Orleans, La., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before CLARK, Chief Judge, GEE, RUBIN, GARZA, REAVLEY, POLITZ, RANDALL, JOHNSON, WILLIAMS, GARWOOD, JOLLY, HIGGINBOTHAM, DAVIS, HILL, and JONES, Circuit Judges.

ROBERT MADDEN HILL, Circuit Judge: [*]

These consolidated cases arise from the crash shortly after takeoff of Pan American World Airways Flight 759 near New Orleans, Louisiana. The plaintiffs are foreign citizens who sought recompense for their injuries in a Louisiana federal court. Pan American World Airways, Inc. (Pan American) invoked the doctrine of forum non conveniens, insisting that the plaintiffs' home country of Uruguay is the proper forum for the resolution of plaintiffs' claims. We took these cases en banc to decide whether the district court properly applied the doctrine of forum non conveniens. For the reasons stated below, we hold the plaintiffs' causes of action were properly tried in a Louisiana federal court.

I.

On July 9, 1982, Pan American Flight 759 crashed in Kenner, Louisiana, shortly after takeoff from Moisant International Airport. All 154 persons aboard the plane perished. Eyewitness accounts established that seconds after takeoff Flight 759 suddenly descended and pitched to one side. The plane's wing struck a tree causing the wings to swing perpendicular to the ground. Within seconds the plane crashed exploding on impact. A later crash investigation concluded that a microburst wind

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shear was a contributing cause to the accident.

Within weeks of this tragic accident, personal representatives of many of the deceased passengers filed wrongful death suits and survival actions in various United States district courts. 1 On August 12, 1982, plaintiffs filed their suits in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against Pan American, the Boeing Company (manufacturer of the airplane), and the New Orleans Aviation Board (operator of Moisant International Airport). Plaintiffs in these consolidated cases are citizens and residents of Uruguay, and are heirs of passengers killed in the crash of Flight 759. Luis Alberto and Susanna Electra Trivelloni-Lorenzi (Trivelloni children) brought suit for the wrongful death and as survivors of their parents Luis Alberto and Electra Iris Trivelloni who perished in the crash. Ernesto Serio Pampin Lopez (Pampin) brought suit for the wrongful death and as survivor of his mother Sara Lopez de Pampin, his sister Amparo Pampin Lopez, and his aunt Irma Lopez de Alvarez who perished in the crash. All of the decedents were citizens and residents of Uruguay who were on vacation in the United States. 2

Plaintiffs also intended to join the United States as a defendant, but they had to exhaust their administrative remedies under the Federal Torts Claims Acts (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2671 et seq., before doing so. On April 29, 1983, plaintiffs commenced their administrative claims against the United States. At the time plaintiffs initiated their administrative claims against the United States, they were not aware that on January 26, 1983, Pan American had indicated to the district court that Pan American and the United States were prepared to stipulate to liability. Plaintiffs did not have access to the information because it had been placed in a sealed minute entry. The information was not disclosed to plaintiffs until mid-summer of 1983, over one year after the crash.

At a pretrial hearing on July 29, 1983, Pan American advised the district court and plaintiffs that it intended to move to dismiss plaintiffs' cases on the ground of forum non conveniens. Pan American's counsel stated that "we're going to take the position that if liability is not an issue ... that the damage issues in the foreign [plaintiffs'] cases belong in the countries from which they came...." The district court instructed Pan American to file its motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, but in an effort to expedite matters, the court informed Pan American that its motion would be denied. Recognizing that all the parties knew the United States was to be joined as a defendant after the administrative process was completed and anticipating such joinder, the district court stated:

The government is a defendant; the government is going to remain a defendant. I can tell you how I'm going to rule on the motion, so we can go on to the next issue. Really, I'm going to rule that you have no right to that transfer, and I'm going to rule that that issue hanging there is not going to stop me from ruling on it, that I'm not going to do it, and you can sign the stipulations. We're going to go to trial here on damages, with the government as a defendant and with the crash happening here ... The crash was here, and the United States is a party.

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On August 22, 1983, Pan American did file its motion to dismiss plaintiffs' cases on the ground of forum non conveniens. 3 In connection with the motion, Pan American stated that it would: (1) submit to jurisdiction of the courts of Uruguay, (2) concede liability, (3) waive any statute of limitations defense, (4) waive the Warsaw Convention's limitation of damages provision, and (5) guarantee satisfaction of any judgment entered against it in Uruguay. In its motion Pan American argued that the United States was an unnecessary party since Pan American had guaranteed payment of any judgment rendered against Pan American in Uruguay. The motion went on to contend that dismissal on the basis of forum non conveniens was proper because only the damages issue remained and that this issue could best be litigated in Uruguay. In a minute entry docketed September 6, 1983, the district court denied the motion. Pan American moved for reconsideration or alternatively for certification of the ruling for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1292(b). The district court denied both requests. Pan American petitioned this court for a supervisory writ of mandamus, but on January 18, 1984, we refused to issue the writ. 4

On December 16, 1983, while Pan American was attempting to gain interlocutory review of the district court's denial of its motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, plaintiffs, Pan American, and the United States entered into a stipulation as to liability, damages, defenses, and payment under any subsequent judgment. 5 As anticipated by the parties, plaintiffs' administrative claims under the FTCA were unsuccessful, 6 and on February 17, 1984, plaintiffs amended their complaints to make the United States a party defendant. 7 The final procedural posturing of these cases occurred when defendants Boeing Company and New Orleans Aviation Board were dismissed with prejudice pursuant to the December 16 stipulation.

With the parties to these actions finally aligned, the district court made several pre-trial decisions on the law which would apply. The court held that Pan American had failed to show any significant difference between the law of Uruguay and Louisiana; therefore, the law of Louisiana would apply. The court, however, later granted Pampin's motion requesting that Uruguayan law apply insofar as it recognized a nephew's claim for the wrongful death of an aunt; Louisiana law recognized no such claim. The court also struck Pan American's defense that sought to invoke the damages limitations of the Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Agreement 8 because the notices of liability limitation on the plaintiffs' tickets were not furnished in the required ten-point type size.

Both the Trivelloni and Pampin cases went to trial on the same day. The trials were physically consolidated while the juries heard from two witnesses to the crash

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and from an anthropological expert who testified as to South American mores and familial relationships. The trials were then separated for presentation of evidence particular to each family. The Trivelloni jury awarded $25,000 each for the pre-impact pain and suffering of Luis and Electra Trivelloni, $75,000 to each Trivellino child for the death of their parents, and $3,530 for loss of their parents' personal effects, for a total of $203,530. The Pampin jury awarded $25,000 for the pre-impact pain and suffering of each of Ernesto Pampin's deceased relatives, $12,000 for the post-impact pain and suffering of Pampin's aunt Irma Lopez de Alvarez, $250,000 for the death of his mother, $150,000 for the death of his sister, $13,000 for the death of his aunt, and $16,853.89 for loss of his relatives' personal effects, for a total of $516,853.89. The district court entered judgment in each case against Pan American and the United States consistent with the verdicts and denied all post-trial motions.

On appeal a panel of this court affirmed the district court's denial of Pan American's motion to...

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