The case is Coyle v. United States of America, issued on March 30. When plaintiff was arriving at Idlewild Airport in New York City after a trip from Fort Lauderdale, she tripped on the rubber matting near the TSA screening machines, breaking her nose. She argues that the mat created a danger for travelers. She sues under the Federal Tort Claims Act, for which the United States can be held liable. The question here is whether the U.S. breached its duty of care to Coyle. If it did, then summary judgment is not proper and Coyle can win at trial.
There will be no trial because summary judgment was properly granted, the Court of Appeals (Calabresi, Lohier and Park) rules. She loses under the "trivial defect doctrine," a relatively obscure rule that exempts the defendant from tort liability for "negligent maintenance by reason of trivial defects on a walkway . . . as a consequence of which a pedestrian might merely stumble, stub his toes, or trip over a raised projection." Never heard of this doctrine? Neither did I.
Based on Coyle’s testimony as well as the photographs of the mat and its surroundings in the TSA screening area that Coyle presented, we conclude that TSA’s use and placement of the mat over which Coyle tripped constituted a trivial condition, and hence can be held to be non-negligent as a matter of law. . . . This was not a situation where Coyle was “naturally distracted from looking down at [her] feet” and for that reason did not notice that a mat was on the floor. And Coyle has made no claim that the terminal was dimly lit, or crowded, or even that she was in a rush to make her flight. Indeed, even with the delay caused by her fall, there was still nearly an hour between Coyle leaving the TSA screening area and her flight’s departure. In the absence of any such variables, the presence of a floor mat placed on the floor, even a one-inch thick black mat on a black floor, is—under the triviality doctrine—simply not a sufficiently dangerous condition to constitute negligence