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Kopp v. Delta Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

December 26, 2019




         Arising from Plaintiff Valarie Kopp tripping while on a Delta flight that departed from the Cincinnati Airport on April 20, 2017, (Doc. # 1-2 at 3-7), this matter is before the Court on Defendant Delta Airlines, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 17). The Motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the Court's review. (Docs. # 18 and 19). For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion is granted, and this matter is finally dismissed.


         On April 20, 2017, Plaintiff Valarie Kopp was flying from the Cincinnati Airport (“CVG”) to Los Angeles, California (“LAX”) on a Delta Airlines, Inc. (“Delta”) flight. (Doc. # 1-2 at 4). During the flight, Kopp got out of her seat to stretch in the aisle. Id.; see also (Doc. # 17-5 at 11-12). At the same time, Kopp alleges that a flight attendant[1] “came rushing down the aisle . . . at a high rate of speed.” (Doc. # 1-2 at 4); see also (Doc. # 17-5) (testifying that “the stewardess started from the back and started running down the aisleway”). She later admitted, however, that the flight attendant was merely “walking fast” and not “running.” (Doc. # 17-5 at 11) (deposition of Valarie Kopp).

         Kopp claims that “[i]n order to avoid colliding” with the flight attendant she “stepped into a row of seats, and in doing so, twisted her knee, causing serious injury and requiring serious surgical intervention to repair the damage.” (Doc. # 1-2 at 4). Specifically, Kopp explained that her “left foot touched the floor brace of the seat in front of [her], causing [her] knee to twist outward and [she] fell into the seat.” Id. at 17; see also (Doc. # 17-5 at 11) (“I went to step into our row of seats and my foot caught on the frame of the seat in front of me and I fell, but my foot and my knee stayed on the opposite side of the frame.”). Kopp alleges that because the flight attendant “rushed down the airplane [aisleway], ” Kopp “rush[ed to get] out of the way” and had to “jump into a row of seats . . . for fear of being run over.” (Doc. # 1-2 at 5-6). At no time, however, did the flight attendant make physical contact with Valarie Kopp.[2] (Doc. # 17-5 at 11, 41) (descriptions by Valarie Kopp of the incident during her deposition and in an email to a Delta representative sent shortly after the incident). Additionally, Kopp admitted that there was nothing under the seat that she would have tripped on, (Doc. # 17-5 at 11, 15-16), and both Kopp and her husband admitted that there was nothing apparently defective or wrong with the seat upon which she tripped, (Doc. # 17-4 at 12:5-7) (Plaintiff's husband testifying that he does not recall “ever see[ing] anything that [he] would consider defective”); (Doc. # 17-5 at 15).

         Kopp brought claims of negligence against both Delta and the flight attendant. (Doc. # 1-2 at 5-6). She alleges in the Complaint that Delta is vicariously liable for the negligence of the flight attendant because the flight attendant was acting within her scope of employment “when she negligently ran down the [aisleway] and caused Plaintiff to injure her knee.” Id. at 5. Kopp requests compensatory and special damages, pre-judgment interest, costs, fees, and any other relief the Court finds to be equitable. Id. at 7.

         Kopp originally filed her action in Boone County Circuit Court. (Docs. # 1 at 1 and 1-2 at 3). After removal to federal court, Delta moved for summary judgment. (Doc. # 17). The Motion has been fully briefed, (Docs. # 18 and 19), and is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment may be granted if the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those that “might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Once the moving party has met the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the non-moving party must then ‘come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Baker v. City of Trenton, 936 F.3d 523, 529 (6th Cir. 2019) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, and the plaintiff must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. 475 U.S. at 587. It is up to the Court to determine, while viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and drawing inferences in that party's favor, id. (citing Smith Wholesale Co. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 477 F.3d 854, 861 (6th Cir. 2007)), “whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the [non-moving party] is entitled to a verdict, ” id. (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         In considering whether there are genuine issues of material fact, a court may consider “materials in the records including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Parties may not rely, however, on “the mere pleadings themselves.” Thomas v. City of Alliance, 52 F.3d 326, at *2 (6th Cir.1995) (unpublished table decision) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).

         B. Negligence

         In support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, Delta argues that it and its flight attendant were not negligent as a matter of law.[3] See (Doc. # 17-1). Specifically, Delta claims that while it has a duty to protect its passengers, it did not have a duty to prevent this accident. Id. at 6-7. Additionally, Delta argues that the actions of the flight attendant were not “negligent or [ ] the proximate cause of [Kopp's] injury.” Id. at 7. In sum, Delta does not appear to dispute Kopp's injury; rather, Delta disputes Kopp's allegation that the facts are sufficient to show that the flight attendant and, by extension, Delta were negligent. See generally (Docs. # 17 and 19). Predictably, Plaintiff takes the opposite position, arguing that Delta had a duty “to its passengers to keep them safe while they are aboard a Delta flight.” (Doc. # 18). Kopp seems to suggest that there is a material issue of fact as to whether the flight attendant's movement in the aisle was a breach of that duty, and therefore the case must go to a jury.[4] Id. at 6.

         To make out a claim for negligence in Kentucky, [5] a Plaintiff must prove four elements: “(1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty of care; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the plaintiff[']s damages; and (4) damages.” Gonzalez v. Johnson, 581 S.W.3d 529, 532 (Ky. 2019) (citing Patton v. Bickford, 529 S.W.3d 717, 729 (Ky. 2016)). In order to ...

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