Monday, April 04, 2005

My Legal Theory Against AA

I received a coupon in the mail for $400 off on my next AA ticket. But, that's not good enough for me. I don't want to have to buy another ticket for extra expenses I incurred during travel, I want CASH.

As I mentioned, AA will fall onto the horns of a dilemma. Either scenario I.: they claim that the delay was Force Majeure, or scenario II.: they just screwed up due to factors within their control, but they breached the contract by refusing to offer me an overnight stay.

I. I think they fare better claiming Force Majeure, but let's examine the relevant portions of the contract pertaining to Force Majeure first:

Force Majeure Event Means ...

2. Any strike, work stoppage, slowdown, lockout or any other labor related dispute involving or affecting AA's service, or
4. Any shortage of labor, fuel or facilities of AA or others, or ....

Thus, AA could claim that they had a Force Majeure event, because they didn't have enough baggage handlers to load the plane, while we sat for 2-1/2 hours in the plane, at the gate. But, they have not done so yet, and that's why I asked them directly in my second notice to take a position one way or the other.

Should AA claim Force Majeure, as Beanie pointed out earlier, the remedy would be an "involuntary refund." But such refund is made only on the unused portion of the ticket. Under the section Involuntary Refunds, the contract states, in pertinent part:

In the event the refund is required because of American's failure to operate on schedule or refusal to transport, the following refund will be made directly to you - ...

If the ticket is partially used, the applicable fare for the unused segment(s).

If I had turned in my ticket, AA would have had to refund the LIAT portion of the ticket for carriage from St. Thomas (STT) to Anguilla (ANG), the so-called unused segment. However, since I used the rest of my ticket to travel on LIAT airlines to St. Martin, there wasn't any unused portion left. But, as a matter of equity, I can claim that there is something residual in the ticket, in that it should have taken me all the way to Anguilla, and I was still owed passage from St. Martin to Anguilla. I bore the additional expenses to getting to Anguilla myself, which American should be forced to pay for. Some may think that I could argue for the entire portion of the ticket on LIAT to travel from STT to ANG, but I think the court would find that I used that segment of the ticket. If AA declares Force Majeure, I think they stand a better chance, because then I would have to convince the court, as a matter of equity, that there was still some unused segment of the ticket for which I deserved compensation through an involuntary refund.

II. The delay was within AA's control, no Force Majeure, but AA breached the contract. Under the contract, AA is not liable for their delay. As the contract states under the heading RESPONSIBILITY FOR SCHEDULES AND OPERATIONS, "Under no circumstances shall American be liable for any special, incidental or consequential damages arising from the foregoing. " So long as AA plays by its own rules, AA is not liable.

But AA breached the contract. How? Well, they had a material responsibility to me when they arrived late, and the repudiated their responsibility when I asked them for help in St. Thomas. Under the section DELAYS, CANCELLATIONS AND DIVERSIONS, the contract states:

American Airlines and American Eagle will provide customers at the airport and onboard an affected aircraft with timely and frequent updates regarding known delays, cancellations and diversions and will strive to provide the best available information concerning the duration of delays and to the extent available, the flight's anticipated departure time. We [reiterate that we]
are not responsible for any special, incidental or consequential damages if we do not meet this commitment.

When cancellations and major delays are experienced, you will be rerouted on our next flight with available seats. If the delay or cancellation was caused by events within our control and we do not get you to your final destination on the expected arrival day, we will provide reasonable overnight accommodations, subject to availability.

When I asked AA what they would do for me, the ticket clerk told me I would have to make my own arrangements, because there were no flight to Anguilla until tomorrow. I asked her for an overnight stay, and she refused. I asked her to call the manager. She spoke with the manager, Jay, on the phone, who did not bother to check for availability, but invented a cockamame story that somehow, my ticket was "illegal." By refusing to provide me with "reasonable overnight accomodations ..., subject to availability," AA breached the contract.

Thus, even though AA breached, I was forced to take all reasonable efforts to cure the contract as a result of their failure to perform. I did this by getting on the LIAT flight to St. Martin, and then taking the ferry. Thus, I salvaged as much of the remaining ticket as I could, and minimized the damages. I should be entitled to these damages, because I was no longer bound by the terms of their contract prohibiting their liability for such damages.

I called their main office, and they told me that the local airport manager had the authority and responsibility to make the decision whether accomodations would be provided. But he does not have the authority to alter the contract. See AUTHORITY TO CHANGE CONTRACT, which states, "No agent, employee or representative of American has authority to alter, modify or waive any provision of the Conditions of Carriage unless authorized in writing by a corporate officer of American." Since that didn't happen, the contract was not modified, AA breached, and thus AA is liable for damages.

Please, point out any flaws in my legal reasoning that you might see. Further, if you have any additional arguments that might support these, or any other positions, let me know.