Airline Can Seek Either Trial or Damages

     MANHATTAN (CN) – US Airways can get a bench trial in its antitrust lawsuit against ticket-seller Sabre Holdings, but must drop its $210 million damages request to do so, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge Lorna Shofield warned US Airways in her June 19 ruling that if chooses trial, it will not be able to reinstate its damages claim later.
     Four years ago, US Airways accused Sabre of shutting out competition to maintain a monopoly based on a “technologically obsolete” business model. Sabre makes airlines pay for their affiliated travel agents to book with them, US Airways said.
     “The airline industry and other technology services providers have become more efficient, yet Sabre’s conduct has enabled it to charge inflated prices with outdated technology that was developed before the Internet existed,” US Airways President Scott Kirby said in 2011. “Lower-cost, more technologically-advanced alternatives and innovative fare products are being shut out by Sabre’s actions.”
     Under antitrust law, US Airways could be entitled to three times the $70 million damages it estimates if it prevails at trial.
     The Seventh Amendment guarantees civil defendants a jury trial if they face more than $20 in damages, but a lawsuit seeking only declaratory relief can be tried before a judge.
     To ensure a bench trial, US Airways requested a waiver of its damages claim with the option to renew after trial.
     Judge Shofield on Friday granted only half of that request.
     “Losing the right to a jury trial is prejudicial to Sabre, but no more so than other types of amendments that are routinely granted, such as those adding claims that increase a defendant’s liability or adding allegations that transform an insufficient complaint into an adequate one,” Shofield wrote. “Therefore, a simple amendment to waive damages is not unduly prejudicial in this case and does not foreclose amendment.”
     Letting US Airways change course later would invite a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition, Shofield said.
     Sabre bears all of the risk of what it views as an unsatisfactory outcome, and US Airways bears none of it,” the judge added.
     The parties have until Friday to amend their pleadings.
     Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.

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