Wisner Law Firm brought suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois against United Airlines on behalf of a client injured in the June 25, 2014, crash landing of “United Express” flight UA 3562 at the Denver airport. Plaintiff alleged the air carrier operated the accident flight with a known unresolved mechanical problem.
Defendant United immediately moved to dismiss the action based upon the argument that it neither operated the flight nor maintained the aircraft. Rather, under an agreement with United, the flight was operated, and the aircraft was maintained, by a regional airline, Shuttle America. United relied upon a string of federal court decisions which had consistently dismissed cases against major airlines whose flights were conducted by “partner” or “associate” regional carriers.
However, Wisner Law Firm argued that its client passenger’s ticket and contract of carriage was with United, not with its regional “associate” Shuttle America and that the several federal court decisions upon which United had relied had not considered the express, implied or apparent agency of the regional carrier. Wisner Law Firm presented evidence that United set fares and available seats and designated the aircraft to be used and that Shuttle America used United’s reservation system and airline designator code; its flight attendants and pilots wore uniforms almost identical to those of United employees and, of course, the aircraft bore the United name and logo.
Judge John Ehrlich relied upon this evidence in denying United’s motion to dismiss. The Court held that the federal court decisions granting dismissal in similar cases were wrongly decided. It is believed that this is the first decision allowing a passenger’s claim against a major carrier arising from a flight operated by a regional carrier.