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Haley v. Pan American World Airways

746 F.2d 311 (1984)

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Haley v. Pan American World Airways

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

746 F.2d 311 (1984)

Facts

Michael Haley died on impact in a Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) (defendant) plane crash in Louisiana. Michael’s parents, Thomas and Ann Haley (plaintiffs), sued Pan Am for Michael’s mental anguish prior his death. After a damages trial, the jury returned a $15,000 award in favor of the Haleys. Pan Am argued the evidence did not support the jury’s finding that Michael suffered conscious preimpact fear because no passenger survived to relate what Michael may have experienced. The plane's wing struck a tree 53 feet above ground, and then the aircraft rolled and disintegrated some four to six seconds later on impact with the ground. The Haleys’ expert witness, a psychiatrist who had treated survivors of aircraft accidents, testified that most of the people aboard would be in a state of pandemonium, panic, and extreme stress, at least from the time the plane hit the tree until impact seconds later. Pan Am’s expert conceded that when the passengers experienced a violent change in the plane during the last few seconds, they certainly would have been thrown about and fighting for their lives. Pan Am argued that even if sufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding that Michael suffered preimpact fear, $15,000 for no more than four to six seconds of anguish was contrary to reason. The trial court denied Pan Am’s motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial. Pan Am appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Higginbotham, J.)

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