Though a common carrier is responsible for any, even the slightest, negligence and is required to do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under all the circumstances, it is not an insurer of its passengers' safety. The degree of care and diligence which it must exercise is only such as can reasonably be exercised consistent with the character and mode of conveyance adopted and the practical operation of its business.
A passenger was injured during a airline flight when a briefcase fell out of an overhead compartment and landed on her. She filed a negligence suit against the airline. The district court dismissed the suit on summary judgment. The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Was the dismissal proper?
The court ruled that based upon plaintiff's evidence, defendant had received numerous complaints about objects falling from the overhead compartments, and a genuine issue of material fact existed on whether defendant had a duty to do more than merely warn its passengers about the dangers of such falling objects. The court reasoned that given its prior notice of the falling objects, coupled with increased carry-on luggage, the issue of whether defendant took sufficient precautions in discharging its duty as a common carrier to protect its passengers warranted a trial. Given the heightened duty of a common carrier, even a small risk of serious injury to passengers may form the basis of liability if that risk could be eliminated consistent with the character and mode of conveyance adopted and the practical operation of that business.