Groundbreaking Defense Verdict Secured for American Airlines Featured in Defense Verdicts of Note Case Review

July 2010


John Kirkton’s case review, Defense Verdicts of Note, featured SmithAmundsen attorney Larry Smith. The article, “Fatal In-Flight Heart Attack— No Defibrillator Aboard,” discusses the April 2001 defense verdict Larry and co-counsel Gerald Cleary secured for American Airlines in the LoCicero case. On January 2, 1995 47-year-old computer systems analyst Donald LoCicero suffered a sudden cardiac event and died while on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico. LoCicero had been sleeping so the event was unwitnessed. By the time he was discovered and resuscitation was attempted by the crew and two physician-passengers, LoCicero was cool to the touch, bluish in color, and his pupils were fixed/dilated. His estate alleged that the airline was at fault for failing to equip its planes with automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), which it claimed would have revived LoCicero. $6 million in damages were sought.

American Airlines argued it was under no obligation to carry AEDs since there was no FAA regulation requiring them, and contended that, in 1995, AEDs had technical limitations which interfered with their reliability when used during transport. However, in 1997, American had placed AEDs on board its aircraft when no other U.S. domestic carrier had done so. The defense also insisted that even if an AED had been available, it would not have changed the outcome. Supposedly, LoCicero had been snoring loudly during the flight—but the snoring stopped more than 10 minutes before he was discovered. Additionally, American asserted that the plaintiff’s damages were limited to only economic loss by the Death on the High Seas Act, and that the Illinois Wrongful Death Act was preempted, precluding recovery for loss of society. The defense also maintained that the event that resulted in LoCicero’s death took place more than three nautical miles from the U.S. coastline, so the Death on the High Seas Act applied—and the jury agreed in answer to a special interrogatory. Defense reported that plaintiff’s expert had criticized American for not carrying AEDs in 1995. However, his testimony was undercut by a document submitted by the expert to the FAA in which he had commended the airline for its use of AEDs since 1997 and had described American as “innovative,” “heroes,” and “highest tier.” Both plaintiff and defense attorneys reported that this was the first trial in the U.S. against an airline for failing to provide AEDs on its planes.

The case was reported as one of the 5 most significant verdicts over a set span of time. AEDs are now commonplace on airplanes, at sporting events, in retail establishments and at many public facilities.

John Kirkton has been the editor of the Jury Verdict Reporter, a division of Law Bulletin Publishing Co., since 1991.