FORT LAUDERDALE – NOVEMBER 29, 2022 – Wicker Smith’s Aviation practice team, led by Fort Lauderdale partner Christopher Jahr, recently had a trial court’s summary judgment ruling affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
The subject case arose from a negligence claim made against our client, a major Atlanta-based airline. Plaintiff sued our client in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that she suffered a compression fracture in her spine as the result of a hard landing during a 2019 flight from Fort Lauderdale to Raleigh. The defense of this case was initially problematic because Plaintiff produced medical records showing she was diagnosed with a compression fracture of her spine shortly after the landing and she ultimately underwent spinal surgery to correct the condition.
Our aviation-litigation team immediately went to work assembling an excellent team of expert witnesses. The scope of expert testimony included a biomechanical engineer, an orthopedic surgeon, and a piloting expert who worked together to prepare opinion testimony that the impact during the landing was normal and the landing could not have medically caused the claimed injuries. The biomechanical engineer based his analysis, in part, on the lack of any “hard landing” data reported by the aircraft. The lack of “hard landing” data enabled him to conclude the vertical force was less than 2.1 g and within the tolerances of a normal landing. In addition, the orthopedic expert interpreted the MRI taken two (2) weeks after the subject landing to show an “age indeterminate” fracture that was consistent with osteoporosis – and not caused by trauma. Adding to the complexity of this defense was that all of the above experts were retained and prepared in less than thirty days so as to comply with the incredibly tight time limitations provided in the original Trial Order.
After disclosing the above expert opinions, our team moved for summary judgment and argued there was no evidence of a “hard landing” and there was no evidence the alleged “hard landing” caused the claimed injuries. Plaintiff opposed the summary judgment by untimely disclosing a single “piloting expert” and improperly relying upon medical records to establish medical causation. In a series of well-reasoned Court Orders, the trial court granted our motion to strike the Plaintiff’s piloting expert and also granted our motion for summary judgment.
In her appeal, Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in striking her piloting expert because he was “of the utmost importance” to her case. She also argued the trial court improperly denied her attempt to extend the pre-trial disclosure deadlines. However, the appellate court found these arguments unpersuasive and irrelevant. The appellate court affirmed summary judgment and referenced the arguments in our motion for summary judgment that Plaintiff had failed to disclose or present any admissible evidence that the “hard landing” medically caused her claimed injuries. This opinion from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will now provide helpful legal precedent on these issues moving forward. Congratulations to the Aviation team on this important victory.