Floyd v. Eastern Airlines, Inc.

Decision Date05 May 1989
Docket NumberNo. 86-5381,86-5381
Citation872 F.2d 1462
PartiesRose Marie FLOYD and Terry Floyd, her husband, Connie Gale and Michael Gale, her husband, Michael Gale and Connie Gale, his wife, Gloria Patterson, Edmond Patterson, Thomas J. Nolan, Robert Scharhag, Eugene H. Champ, Frederick W. Hoehler, IV, Sally Ann Collins, Michael R. Dramis, Sandy Dix and Gary Dix, her husband, Dana Dix, By and Through her parents Gary Dix and Sandy Dix, as guardians and next friends, Alexander Dix, By and Through his parents Gary Dix and Sandy Dix, as guardians and next friends, Gerri Ash Self, Susan Rooney and William Rooney, her husband, Janet Jacobs and Bruce Jacobs, her husband, Alexander Embry, Salim Khoury and Deborah Khoury, his wife, Bruce Jacobs and Janet Jacobs, his wife, Myriam Carrasco (f/k/a Myriam Riley) Terry Floyd and Rose Marie Floyd, Gary Dix and Sandy Dix, his wife, Salim Khoury and Deborah Khoury, his wife, Gregory Mantz, By and Through his parents, Netta Mantz and Harold D. Mantz, as guardians and next friends Netta Mantz, Harold Mantz, Gregory D. Mantz, By and Through his father Harold D. Mantz, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. EASTERN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Joel D. Eaton, Podhurst, Orseck, Parks, Josefsberg, Eaton, Meadow & Olin, P.A., Miami, Fla., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Kathleen M. O'Connor, Thornton, David & Murray, P.A., Miami, Fla., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Before JOHNSON and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and ATKINS *, Senior District Judge.

ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

This case presents difficult questions of interpretation of the Warsaw Convention. It also presents a difficult question concerning a Florida state law cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional injury; however, this court is bound by the state court's resolution of this issue. The case also presents issues relating to preemption of the state law cause of action. Because we hold that the district court erred in its construction of the Warsaw Convention, we reverse its judgment and remand with instructions. In addition, we reverse the district court's refusal to grant leave to two plaintiffs to amend their complaints.

I. FACTS

Eastern Airlines flight 855 left Miami en route to Nassau, Bahamas on the morning of May 5, 1983. During the flight, one of the airplane's three engines lost oil pressure. The crew shut down the ailing engine and headed back to Miami. Shortly thereafter, the second and third engines failed. Without power, the plane began losing altitude, and the crew told the passengers that they would have to ditch the plane in the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, the crew managed to restart the engine that had initially failed and to land the plane safely at Miami International Airport.

The plaintiffs in the twenty-five consolidated cases before us today were passengers on flight 855. Except for two cases discussed below, they have brought suit claiming damages solely for mental distress arising out of this incident. These claims are grounded on two theories. 1 The first is a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Florida law. 2 The second arises under the Warsaw Convention. 3 The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of Eastern, holding that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted under either Florida or federal law. In re Eastern Airlines, Inc., Engine Failure, Miami International Airport on May 5, 1983, 629 F.Supp. 307 (S.D.Fla.1986). In considering plaintiffs' appeal, then, we look only to the face of the complaint and must accept its allegations as true. 4

We address in turn plaintiffs' state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Part II), the cause of action under the Warsaw Convention for emotional injury (Part III), preemption (Part IV), plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages pursuant to Article 25 of the Warsaw Convention (Part V.A.), preemption of plaintiffs' state law claim for punitive damages (Part V.B.), guidance on remand with respect to willful misconduct under the Warsaw Convention (Part VI), and denial of leave to amend the complaints of two plaintiffs (Part VII).

II. INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS CLAIM

Plaintiffs alleged that Eastern's maintenance personnel responsible for Flight 855 had failed to install the required oil seals or "O-rings" necessary to prevent oil leaks; that Eastern's records revealed that its aircraft had experienced a dozen prior engine failures stemming from the absence of O-rings; and that Eastern knowingly failed to institute appropriate procedures to correct the problem. The plaintiffs sought damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress based upon these allegations under Florida law.

In a case arising out of the same incident as the cases before us today, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal sitting en banc held that plaintiffs' allegations stated a cause of action under Florida law. King v. Eastern Airlines, Inc., 536 So.2d 1023 (Fla. 3d D.C.A.1987). 5 This court is bound by that interpretation of Florida law in the absence of some persuasive indication that the Florida Supreme Court would hold otherwise. Bradbury v. Wainwright, 718 F.2d 1538, 1540 (11th Cir.1983); Silverberg v. Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis, Inc., 710 F.2d 678, 690 (11th Cir.1983). We note that on March 9, 1989, the Supreme Court of Florida accepted jurisdiction in the King case. 6 For purposes of this opinion only, we assume that the law of Florida is as enunciated by the Third District Court of Appeals. However, on remand the district court will be bound by the decision of the Supreme Court of Florida on the issue of the state law cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

III. WARSAW CONVENTION CLAIM

In their amended complaints, plaintiffs assert a claim for damages under the Warsaw Convention. The Convention is an international treaty to which the United States is a party. Air France v. Saks, 470 U.S. 392, 396, 105 S.Ct. 1338, 1341, 84 L.Ed.2d 289 (1985). Most of the major countries of the world adhere to the Warsaw Convention, including the Bahamas, the intended destination of Flight 855. See Lee S. Kreindler, 1 Aviation Accident Law Sec. 11.01 at 11-7 (1988) (listing countries which are parties to the Convention). The Convention applies to "all international transportation of persons, baggage, or goods performed by aircraft for hire." Warsaw Convention Art. 1.

The Warsaw Convention was the result of two international conferences, held in Paris in 1925 and Warsaw in 1929, and of the work done in the interim by the Comite International Technique d'Experts Juridiques Aeriens ("CITEJA"). Block v. Compagnie Nationale Air France, 386 F.2d 323, 326-27 (5th Cir.1967) (discussing background of Warsaw Convention), cert. denied, 392 U.S. 905, 88 S.Ct. 2053, 20 L.Ed.2d 1363 (1968). At that time, commercial air travel was in its infancy, but "[c]ommon rules to regulate international air carriage ha[d] become a necessity." Minutes, Second International Conference on Private Aeronautical Law, October 4-12, 1929, Warsaw 13 (English translation by Robert C. Horner and Didier Legrez 1975) ("Minutes ") (address of Mr. Lutostanski, head of the Polish delegation).

The conference at Warsaw had two goals. First, to establish uniformity as to documentation such as tickets and waybills, and procedures for dealing with claims arising out of international transportation. See Minutes at 85, 87. The second, and more important at the time, goal of the conference was to limit the potential liability of air carriers in the event of accidents and lost or damaged cargo. See Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Franklin Mint Corp., 466 U.S. 243, 256, 104 S.Ct. 1776, 1784, 80 L.Ed.2d 273 (1984); Minutes at 37; Andreas F. Lowenfeld and Allan I. Mendelsohn, The United States and The Warsaw Convention, 80 Harv.L.Rev. 497, 498-99 (1967) ("Lowenfeld and Mendelsohn"). The Convention established a presumption that air carriers are liable for damage sustained by passengers as a result of the carrier's negligent conduct, but strictly limited this liability to 125,000 Poincare francs, approximately 8,300 dollars. Warsaw Convention Arts. 17, 20, 22.

Proponents put forth several reasons in support of the strict limitation on air carrier liability. First, they pointed out that such limits on liability were not unknown in the law, and drew an analogy to maritime law with its global limitation of a shipowner's liability which enables it to obtain necessary capital. In addition, a limitation on liability provided necessary protection of a financially weak industry and ensured that catastrophical risks would not be borne by the air carriers alone. Furthermore, the limit allowed for the inability of carriers to insure against such great risks while admitting that passengers could obtain insurance themselves. Finally, the liability limitation sought to avoid litigation by facilitating quick settlements and establishing a uniform law with respect to the amount of recoverable damages. See H. Drion, Limitation of Liabilities in International Air Law 12-44 (1954). Whatever the validity of these arguments today, 7 the liability limitation was and remains an integral feature of the Warsaw scheme.

While the air carriers clearly were the chief beneficiaries of the Warsaw system, passengers also received some benefits. Article 23 of the Convention invalidated any attempt by the carrier tending to relieve it of liability or to fix a limit lower than that of the Convention. The Convention also shifted the burden of proof in an accident so that the carrier was presumed negligent unless it could show that it had taken all necessary measures to avoid damages or that it was impossible for it to take such...

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