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Raub v. US Airways, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 19, 2017



          THOMAS J. RUETER United States Magistrate Judge.

         Presently before the court are plaintiff Regina Raub's Motion to Compel (Doc. No. 29), defendant U.S. Airways, Inc.'s (“US Airways”) opposition thereto (Doc. No. 32), plaintiff's Reply Brief (Doc. No. 34), and U.S. Airways' Surreply Brief (Doc. No. 36). Oral argument was held today. For the reasons and to the extent set forth below, the Motion to Compel is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


         On April 29, 2014, plaintiff was a passenger on a Boeing 757 airplane operated by defendant U.S. Airways, identified as flight 815 and flying from Cancun, Mexico to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (“Flight 815"). Approximately forty nautical miles southwest of Richmond, Virginia, Flight 815 approached a storm system. Plaintiff alleges in her First Amended Complaint that U.S. Airways provided her with a “worn-out or defective seatbelt that suddenly failed when the aircraft unexpectedly entered severe turbulence” in the storm system. Plaintiff contends that “her body was thrown upward, causing her head to strike violently against the overhead compartment” and, as a result, she “suffered head, neck, and concussive brain injuries.” (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 1-3, 6.)


         Plaintiff filed the Motion to Compel seeking an order compelling U.S. Airways to produce three categories of documents: (1) a passenger manifest for Flight 815; (2) complaints by passengers on other flights sustaining injuries resulting from seatbelt failure during turbulence; and (3) employment and personnel files for the Flight 815 flight crew.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) governs the discovery request and provides in relevant part:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

         A. Passenger Manifest for Flight 815.

         First, plaintiff requests U.S. Airways to produce its manifest identifying all 172 passengers on Flight 185 (Request for Production No. 13). U.S. Airways responds that this information has little probative value and, any benefit of the information to plaintiff is outweighed by the burdensomeness to U.S. Airways. The court sustains, in part, U.S. Airways' objection to plaintiff's discovery request.

         There is no dispute that severe turbulence occurred on Flight 185 and that plaintiff was injured as a result of striking her head against the overhead compartment. What is in dispute is whether a defective seatbelt caused her injuries. Plaintiff's counsel has interviewed two passengers, Jessica Cartwright and Megan White, friends of plaintiff, who sat next to plaintiff on the plane at the time of the accident. These two individuals were in the best position to witness any defect in the seatbelt and to attest to plaintiff's injuries. In addition, U.S. Airways also provided plaintiff with the names of the six passengers who were assigned to the seats across from and behind plaintiff, but did not provide contact information with respect to these six passengers. U.S. Airways shall provide to plaintiff the contact information, if available, for these six passengers pursuant to the protective order the parties currently have in place (the “Protective Order”).

         Plaintiff states that two other passengers on Flight 815 were injured in the turbulence during the storm and seeks to discover whether “other belts failed too.” (Pl.'s Reply Br. at 5.) U.S. Airways shall provide the names of these two passengers, and their contact information if available, to plaintiff in accordance with the Protective Order.

         The remaining passengers on the plane would have little to no information to add to the testimony of these witnesses on the issues of causation and damages. Federal law prohibits airline carriers from releasing passenger contact information. See 14 C.F.R. §§ 243.7(a), 243.9. Plaintiff has not made a sufficient showing of need for this information to justify this court overriding this important privacy policy. To the extent sent forth herein, the Motion to Compel is granted in part and denied in part.

         B. Complaints by ...

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