Atlantic Coast Airlines v. Cook

857 N.E.2d 989 (2006)

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Atlantic Coast Airlines v. Cook

Indiana Supreme Court
857 N.E.2d 989 (2006)

KL

Facts

Bryan and Jennifer Cook (plaintiffs) boarded a flight with Atlantic Coast Airlines (the airline) (defendant) from Indianapolis to New York City a few months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Frederic Girard, a French man, also boarded the plane and demonstrated erratic behavior such as running toward the gate, not sitting in his assigned seat, attempting to sit near the cockpit, repeatedly pressing the overhead buttons, failing to obey the flight attendants’ instructions, and lighting cigarettes. After a flight attendant asked Girard to extinguish his cigarette for the second time, Girard stood and shouted at the flight attendant to get back. Bryan and other passengers confronted Girard, telling him to sit down, and Girard responded in French. The Cooks heard Girard say the words “World Trade Center,” “Americans,” and “New York City.” An airline employee calmed Girard down and sat next to Girard until the plane could be diverted to Cleveland, where Girard was arrested. The plane then continued to New York. The Cooks sued the airline in Indiana court for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The airline filed a summary-judgment motion, arguing that Indiana’s modified impact rule, which required a plaintiff to show that he or she suffered a physical impact from the defendant’s negligence, precluded the claim. The Cooks asserted that they sustained physical impacts from breathing cigarette smoke and feeling vibrations from Girard’s stomping. The Cooks also alleged what they called constructive impacts on their bodily functions, such as increased heart rates, rapid breathing, and sweating. The Cooks did not seek medical treatment for their emotional distress, and their distress was limited to the time they were on the airplane. The Cooks had traveled on airplanes since the incident but alleged that they were nervous and concerned about flying. The trial court determined that the modified impact rule did not preclude the Cooks’ claim. The airline appealed, and the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling on the issue. The airline appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Rucker, J.)

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