This matter comes before the court on the motion of the defendant, Pan American World Airways, Inc. ("Pan Am") for summary judgment. Pan Am argues that plaintiff's action to recover damages for the value of luggage and its contents lost while plaintiff was traveling on a Pan Am flight from Miami, Florida to Buenos Aires, Argentina cannot be maintained for two reasons. First, Pan Am argues that it has already paid the full amount for which it is liable pursuant to the provisions of the Warsaw Convention and applicable Civil Aeronautics Board tariffs. Second, Pan Am argues that plaintiff's subrogee negotiated a full settlement of plaintiff's claim with Pan Am and subsequently endorsed and deposited a check from Pan Am, thereby releasing Pan Am from further liability. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.
On December 20, 1980, plaintiff, Ivonne Martin, embarked on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Plaintiff's travel originated in Washington, D.C. on flight number 355 to Miami, Florida. In Washington, plaintiff checked three pieces of baggage to Miami. In Miami, plaintiff picked up her luggage, to ensure that it would be rechecked through to Buenos Aires. She subsequently presented her baggage at the Pan Am desk of Miami Airport, to be checked aboard her international flight to Buenos Aires.
Pan Am's baggage handler received her bags, and issued claims checks to Martin. The baggage handler then tagged the bags. However, he placed one baggage tag on one bag, two tags on a second bag, and no tag on Martin's third bag. In addition, he neglected to record the weight of the bags on plaintiff's baggage claim.
Plaintiff states that she noticed that the baggage handler had failed to tag her third bag, and brought this to his attention. She states further that he replied that he had tagged the bag, and permitted it to disappear up the conveyor belt without checking into it further.
Martin did not declare or pay for excess valuation on the personal property contained in her luggage, nor did she request that her luggage receive special handling because of its value. In addition, plaintiff's ticket set forth the conditions of carriage of the Warsaw Convention, including the limited liability provisions of the Convention.
When plaintiff arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she discovered that one piece of luggage was missing. She alleges that the luggage contained clothes, perfume, and jewelry worth approximately $16,000.
Plaintiff also claims that the luggage contained a title to property which she owns in Buenos Aires. Plaintiff seeks $50,000 in compensatory damages for the loss of the title.
The luggage has never been located by Pan Am. Plaintiff received $2,000 for the loss under the provisions of a transportation-floater insurance policy held by her employer, the Inter-American Development Bank. This policy was issued by the Insurance Company of North America, ("INA"). INA's rights to subrogation against Pan Am were then assigned to its adjuster, Recovery Services International, Inc. ("RSI"). RSI filed a claim with Pan Am seeking $2,000. Pan Am ultimately paid RSI $540, and RSI endorsed and deposited the check. Pan Am argues that the amount paid, $540, represents the full amount for which it is liable under the terms of the Warsaw Convention, and that plaintiff cannot seek further recovery.
On July 26, 1982, Martin brought this complaint alleging breach of contract, breach of bailment, negligence, and conversion. Martin alleges that Pan Am negligently lost her baggage, and failed to tag and weigh the baggage. Martin alleges that these crucial omissions remove Pan Am from the protection of the limited liability provisions of the Warsaw Convention, and that Pan Am is liable for the full amount of the damages claimed.
Defendant has moved for summary judgment on two separate grounds. First, Pan Am argues that it has paid to plaintiff's subrogee the full amount to which plaintiff could be entitled under the terms of the Warsaw Convention. Second, Pan Am argues that plaintiff's subrogee negotiated a full settlement of plaintiff's claim with Pan Am and subsequently endorsed and deposited a settlement check from Pan Am, thereby settling the claim and relieving Pan Am from further liability.
Because the court finds that the provisions of the Warsaw Convention limit Pan Am's liability for the loss of Martin's luggage, this court has no occasion to consider Pan Am's alternate argument.
The amount to which an airline may be liable for the loss, delay, or damage to baggage on international flights is expressly limited by the terms of the Warsaw Convention.
The Convention provides:
In the transportation of checked baggage and of goods, the liability of the carrier shall be limited to the sum of 250 francs per kilogram, unless the consignor has made, at the time when the package was handed over to the carrier, a special declaration of the value at delivery and has paid a supplementary sum if the case so requires.