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Under Puerto Rico law, an apparent principal may be held liable for the acts of its apparent agent where the apparent principal's actions led the plaintiffs to reasonably believe in its representation of authority and control over the apparent agent, through the apparent principal's conduct, including its silence, evasive language and appearances. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico has applied the doctrine where persons who used the services of the apparent agent could not possibly know or had no way of knowing that the entity they were dealing with was not the apparent principal or an agent thereof. The court has also applied the doctrine where the plaintiff trusted in good faith in defendant's conduct, and where that trust could lead a reasonable person to believe that in fact there was a principal-agent relationship.
Ananias Grajales-Romero was injured when an airport check-in counter sign collapsed on her. Grajales-Romero sued American Airlines, Inc. and was awarded damages. American Airlines argued on appeal, among other things, that it should not be liable for the negligence of the subsidiary that actually owned, operated, and maintained the check-in counter. Grajales-Romero cross-appealed, claiming that American Airlines’ obstinacy should have resulted in an attorney's fees award.
Did the court err in allowing the case to go to the jury on Grajales-Romero’s theory that American Airlines was liable for the negligence of Executive Airlines, d/b/a/ American Eagle, which American Airlines argues actually owned, operated, and maintained the check-in counter?
The appeals court rejected both sides' arguments, holding that the evidence was more than sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find a principal-agent relationship existed and that even though evidence of breach of standard of care was not presented, the conditions of res ipsa loquitur were adequately satisfied as was proximate cause. The jury instructions and other trial rulings were not an abuse of discretion and there was no reason to modify the damages award. Grajales-Romero’s request for attorney fees was rejected as not seriously intended.