Law School Case Brief
Vumbaca v. Terminal One Grp. Ass'n, L.P. - 859 F. Supp. 2d 343 (E.D.N.Y. 2012)
One to whom a duty of care is owed may recover for harm sustained solely as a result of an initial, negligently-caused psychological trauma but with ensuing psychic harm with residual physical manifestations. In the absence of contemporaneous or consequential physical injury, courts have been reluctant to permit recovery for negligently caused psychological trauma, with ensuing emotional harm alone.
Due to unexpected bad weather, a number of a planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport were forced to remain on the tarmac for substantial periods. Passengers on some of the planes had to wait inside the planes for most of the night before they were allowed to disembark. Plaintiff Vivian Vumbaca, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, claimed that she was one of those passengers and alleged that she was kept locked in an aircraft on the ground without food, water, or adequate sanitary facilities for seven hours, suffering mental distress. Vumbaca further claimed that she was forced to endure cramped, uncomfortable conditions, without food, water, or sanitation, so Vumbaca sued Terminal One Group Association, L.P. (defendant), which operated the terminal Vumbaca where was stuck, for false imprisonment. Terminal One moved to dismiss Vumbaca’s claims on the ground that she failed to state a claim.
Did plaintiff suffer injury as to hold liable defendant Terminal One for the delay or personal injuries of plaintiff?
The federal district court reviewed the evidence and concluded that Plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient evidence to support her claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. While it was undisputed that the situation aboard the stranded aircraft was uncomfortable, Vumbaca was never in danger of physical injury, nor could she have reasonably feared such harm to her person. The circumstances endured by the plaintiff was substantially less traumatic than other instances in which New York courts have found sufficient "guarantees of genuineness." The district court concluded that her claim failed as a matter of law. While the court acknowledged that a reasonable jury could find that her suffering was caused by TOGA's negligent breach of a duty to her, the psychic harm Plaintiff suffered from her overnight confinement on a plane stranded on the snowbound tarmac of JFK, was not recognized either by New York law nor permitted by the Montreal Convention. The gravamen of the case is for feelings of distress for which recovery does not lie. The federal district court then dismissed the case.
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