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Lawsuit over unsecured fuel cap of aircraft dismissed without prejudice

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SUPERIOR Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho has dismissed without prejudice the first amended complaint of Ricky M. Lizama, and a minor against Star Marianas Air, saying the plaintiffs failed to specify which subsection of the Consumer Protection Act was violated.

“Without prejudice” means the lawsuit can be refiled.

On July 17, 2016, Lizama and a minor boarded a Star Marianas aircraft from Saipan to Tinian.

According to the lawsuit, after the aircraft took off, Lizama noticed fuel spewing out of the aircraft. Lizama alerted the pilot who then turned the aircraft around and made a safe landing at the Saipan airport.

When they disembarked from the aircraft, the passengers smelled fuel fumes.

The lawsuit did not allege physical injuries as a result of the incident.

But the plaintiffs alleged that Star Marianas staff failed to secure the fuel cap on a fuel tank of the aircraft before they boarded the plane.

On Feb. 22, 2017, the plaintiffs sued Star Marianas for negligence, violation of the CNMI Consumer Protection Act, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs asked for punitive damages and attorney costs.

On Sept. 8, 2017, the court granted the first motion of Star Marianas to dismiss, saying that the plaintiffs’ complaint failed to allege facts showing deceit, misleading, confusion, or use of unfair business practices or that the defendant knew or should have known it introduced an unsafe service into commerce. However, the court allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint.

On May 24, 2018, the plaintiffs filed their amended complaint and sued Start Marianas for Consumer Protection Act violation and negligent infliction of emotional distress and asked for an award of punitive damages.

This time the lawsuit alleged that Star Marianas staff either failed to conduct a pre-flight inspection or a take-off inspection, or conducted one carelessly, thus failing to discover the fuel cap was not secured.

“Star Marianas knew that their staff were routinely careless in performing non-flight operations such as refueling and in conducting the necessary inspections to ensure the airworthiness of its aircraft, and that as a result, its airline services were unsafe for its customers,” the lawsuit stated.

In his ruling issued on June 4, Judge Camacho noted that to succeed in a Consumer Protection Act claim, “a plaintiff must show that the defendant committed an unlawful act or practice in the conduct of trade or commerce.”

Judge Camacho said the plaintiffs failed to specify or provide clear indications which of the 34 possible unlawful acts or practices the defendant allegedly committed.

The judge also found the claims “purely speculative.”

The “plaintiffs used one lone incident to make unsupported factual extrapolation about an alleged routine conduct,” the judge added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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