The ruling of U.S. District Judge William Duffey on a disability lawsuit filed by a blind woman against Delta could have far reaching consequences.
Dorothea Baugh sued Delta Air Lines last year in Fulton County State Court. The blind woman alleged airline staff denied her assistance in boarding a plane despite her disability.
While checking in for a flight at Boston Logan International Airport in September 2012 Mrs Baugh told airline staff she would need assistance boarding because of her disability. The woman alleges gate staff told her to board the plane on her own. While boarding, the woman fell suffering serious injuries.
Delta first had the case removed to federal court on the basis that state-law negligence claim is pre-empted by the Air Carrier Access Act. The airline asked the federal court to dismiss the case on the grounds that the ACAA does not provide a private right of action.
On February 23rd U.S. District Judge William Duffey ruled that while the ACAA statute does not provide a private right of action, nor does it preclude state-law negligence claims in their entirety; the pre-emption only applies to state-law standards of care for disabled passengers.
The ruling says that while Delta failure to assist Mrs Baugh in boarding the plane are tied to a duty of care that is regulated by federal law, state law governs other negligence elements in her complaint, as well as the choice and availability of remedies.
This ruling may have a direct impact on another recent lawsuit filed against the airline. Last October, legally blind attorney Ronald Gardner sued Delta and the TSA after a Federal Air Marshal assaulted him on a flight from D.C. to salt Lake City.
In February 2011, the DoT fined the Atlanta based airline $2,000,000 for violating rules protecting passengers with disabilities. This fine was the largest penalty the U.S. Department of Transportation ever assessed against an airline.
Link to ruling on Case 1:14-cv-02551-WSD (link opens a new window).