Globe-Trotter Can Sue Airline for Losing Film

     MANHATTAN (CN) – American Airlines must head to trial to defend itself against claims that it lost raw footage a filmmaker shot for three documentaries on a worldwide tour, a federal judge ruled.

     Ernest Demel said he left Miami on Jan. 25, 2008, to embark on an around-the-world cruise, stopping at ports in Puerto Rico, Brazil, South Africa, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Japan, Hawaii and Costa Rica.
     Along the way, he taped personal reflections on his travels and captured footage for three work-related projects: “Motor Traffic Accidents Around the World,” “British’s [sic] Treatment of Political Prisoners” and “Royal Costumes for the Last King of Sri Lanka.”
     For the last documentary, Demel claimed to have bought “custom tailored Royal Costumes.”
     At the end of the international tour on May 9, 2008, Demel returned to Miami and boarded an American Airlines flight bound for New York. Before he could board, however, an airline agent allegedly had the filmmaker check his carry-on backpack containing all of the footage.
     Demel said his backpack met carry-on size and weight dimensions, and the agent never explained the need to check it. The agent simply said “cheeks [sic] the bag and hit the gate,” according to Demel’s complaint.
     When the backpack never arrived in New York, Demel made several calls to American Airlines Central Baggage Service and then filed suit on June 16, 2009, estimating the value of his lost luggage at $55,300.
     American Airlines tried to toss the suit, arguing that Demel signed a waiver limiting the airline’s liability for “unique and irreplaceable items.”
     U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel initially refused to dismiss in February.
     “The Court agrees that the DVDs and tapes chronicling plaintiffs individual travel experiences and the ‘custom tailored’ intricately-crafted Sri Lankan Royal Costumes are ‘unique or irreplaceable items,'” Castel wrote at the time. “Nevertheless, as discussed above, American Airlines’ provision disclaiming liability for, among other things, ‘unique and irreplaceable’ items, is an exculpatory provision that, pursuant to a long line of federal common law decisions, is unenforceable.”
     He reiterated his ruling on Thursday, rejecting the airline’s requests to rehear arguments.
     A pre-trial conference is set for Sept. 12.

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