Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Case of the Day: Jiqin Yang v. Air China, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 158507 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 27, 2017)


Plaintiff's 70-year-old mother collapsed and died on the jet bridge as she was disembarking from an Air China plane that had just landed in Beijing, China after having left from Boston, Massachusetts. Plaintiff claims her mother died from tripping and falling as she stepped off the plane, because the door sill was slippery and there was a height gap between the plane and the jet bridge. Plaintiff produced an expert witness who testified that, based on the position of the body of the decedent, the decedent must have died in this manner. Defendants moved to strike the expert opinion, claiming his methods were too speculative and he did not rigorously rule out other possibilities. For her part, the plaintiff also moved to strike the defendants' expert witness and moved for summary judgment.

The court struck the plaintiff's expert opinion in part. The court held the plaintiff's expert could not conclusively establish where the decedent fell--that is, between the plane and the jet bridge or on the jet bridge itself--because the expert was a doctor rather than an expert in airplane design. However, the court did not strike the expert opinion that the decedent died from a head trauma from the fall rather than from a heart attack. The court then granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Boeing, because except for the expert opinion (which is now struck in part,) the plaintiff presented no evidence that the mechanical issues with the plane caused the alleged fall. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Air China, as plaintiff had no other evidence that the operation of the airplane or the jet bridge caused the decedent's fall.


As a litigator, I love cases that are literally the game of inches. The decedent either died on the jet bridge from a heart attack, or a few inches behind between the plane and the jet bridge after having fallen from a height gap. Especially in the context of personal injuries happening on an airplane, it appears that minutiae are everything.

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