Federal Tort Claims Act Requires Written Notice to Federal Agency Before Lawsuit; LeGrande v. United States

Peggy LeGrande, who worked as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, was injured when the plane she working in encountered severe turbulence. She brought a lawsuit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §2674, claiming that the air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were negligent when they chose not to warn the flight’s captain that turbulence had been forecasted for the plane’s flight path.

At the federal district court level, the judge ruled that FAA employees did not breach any duty owed to Ms. LeGrande and granted summary judgment to the United States. On appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the plaintiff sought reversal of the district court’s judgment.

On appeal and for the first time, Ms. LeGrande raised the issue that her injuries came from the negligence of a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist. Because the FAA breached no duty owed to Ms. LeGrande and because she failed to give NWS the written notice that the FTCA statute requires, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court.

The injuries suffered by Ms. LeGrande occurred on Feb. 10, 2006 on a flight from Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport to Chicago Midway Airport. Although the pilot on that plane en route instructed flight attendants to take their seats, within 5 seconds of that order, Ms. LeGrande, who had not secured herself in a seat, was injured because of the extreme turbulence. She was rendered unconscious during the episode.

On Sept. 20, 2007, she filed an administrative “Claim for Damage, Injury or Death” with the FAA. It was alleged in that claim that the United States of America, through the FAA and its employees, agents and representatives, were negligent in that they breached their duties. The FAA denied the claim and Ms. LeGrande filed this FTCA action against the United States. At the end of the discovery process, Ms. LeGrande and the government filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted only the government’s motion for summary judgment and denied Ms. LeGrande’s motion.

The appeals court ruled that the FTCA process serves as a limited waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States. Therefore, the statute allows the federal government to be liable in a tort claim only if the applicable law is followed. The issue here was not whether the FAA air traffic controllers at Cleveland Center had a duty to provide air traffic control guidance to the flight that Ms. LeGrande was on, but rather the scope of that duty.

Without full analysis of what the duties of the respective parties might have been, the court of appeals reached the conclusion that the threshold requirement of filing an administrative claim under FTCA with the appropriate agency and the fact that Ms. LeGrande raised a new claim on appeal served as a bar to her lawsuit by the plain language of the federal statute. Therefore, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings on the summary judgment motions and the case was dismissed.

Peggy LeGrande v. United States, 687 F.3d 800 (7th Cir. 2012).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling injury cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including LaGrange, Wheaton, Hinsdale, Skokie, Chicago (Ukrainian Village), River Forest, Elmhurst, Chicago (Stockyards), Hickory Hills and Oak Forest, Ill.

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