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(1)What Should be News (NEED TEXT)
(1) Jerry Sterns
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(1) Our Team
(2) Aviation Cases
(1)Terrorism and Security
(1) International Travel (NEED TEXT)
(2)Working with Sterns & Walker
(1)Verdicts and Settlements NEED TEXT
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(18) Pages. There was a deposit for 10 pages. Additional pages billed at $195 per page
Tag line: “Successful Results in complex cases for clients and attorneys for over 40
Tag line: “Successful Results in complex cases for clients and attorneys for over 40
“Headed by Gerald Sterns, the law firm of Sterns and Walker
specializes in representing survivors, victims and families of
aircraft and other serious accidents, worldwide.
For the past thirty-five plus years Sterns & Walker has been
involved in almost every major air carrier accident case and
hundreds of other cases involving claims against major defendants,
including; United States of America, the Boeing, General Electric,
Murkowski Helicopter; Air Bus, Ratheone, Bell Helicopter,
HoneyWell and others.
The Plane inspections: Video Clip on the way.
Air Philippines Accident: Record Asia Pacific Air Crash Settlement
The law firm of Sterns & Walker as co-lead counsel, is currently participating
in the final settlement arising out of a Philippine air crash involving a
commuter flight between Manila and Mindanao Island on Easter, 2000.
This case took some considerable time to complete because of battles over
whether or not it could be litigated in the United States. The issue was finally
being resolved in our favor by the Illinois Supreme Court. The settlement was
effected with the London Insurers of AAR Parts & Trading Company and the
Fleet Bank (now part of American Express) in the Circuit Court of Cook
County (Chicago) Illinois.
The aggregate settlement to the surviving families of the 110 fatalities was
$165,000,000 setting by several times a new record for settlement amounts
paid in Asia Pacific crashes, and bringing the results much more in line with
what is considered a reasonably range of settlement in the American and
The thrust of the case was that AAR Parts & Trading had acquired a used
older 737 air craft which had been decommissioned and sold by the airline
using it; that they did a cursory job of inspection and rehabilitation of the
aircraft and leased it to the Philippine commuter airline after having been told
that airline did not have the maintenance expertise to deal with the airplane in
normal service. The airplane crashed while attempting to land at the Davao
City Mindanao Airport, before any technical investigation could be made to
follow up on the various maintenance deficiencies the air craft was moved
from the site of the scene and buried in concrete.
Title: Baltic Sea Helicopter Accident - Sterns & Walker, in association
with the California firm of Bowles & Verna, participated in bringing about a
record settlement for Finnish claimants resulting from a helicopter crash in the
Baltic Sea in 2005. The aircraft in question was manufactured and sold to the
Finnish helicopter company operating the aircraft, and was allegedly equipped
with a defective servo hydraulic system which caused the craft to go out of
control on a flight between Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland.
Defendants maintained on a theory that the crash was caused by a pilot error
and a bizarre weather phenomena occurring over the Baltic Sea.
Title: Southwest Airlines Fined for Maintenance Deficiencies
The Federal Aviation has recently limited the excess of $10,000,000 in fines
against Southwest Airlines for a serious of alleged maintenance deficiencies in
the Southwest program, which allows, according to government, some 40-plus
air craft of the Southwest fleet to be flown without having major required
inspections of the wings and fusel lodge for fatigue cracks, corrosion and
other problems. Fortunately, there has been no accident attributed to this
condition, but this sort of problem has definitely led to serious accidents in the
past. Probably the best known of these was the Aloha Airlines 737 crash
when on a flight between Oahu and Maui at some 20,000 feet, the upper half
of the fusel lodge of the air craft separate failure was to corrosion and mutated
take-offs and landings adding extra stress to the corroded areas.
Later inspections were required of other U.S. airlines, resulting in cancellation
of many flights. A congressional committee is now looking into how and why
the FAA did not insist these inspections were done as required.
What should be news –
A lack of passenger rights: Please link
Passenger rights? Or, Coffee, Tea or Handcuffs?
Sterns & Walker is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and participates in
cases all over the country, including overseas claimants, mostly in matters where
damage claims are asserted against various United States companies, even though
the accident may occur overseas.
The firm has been active in cases in other courts of other states where
participation is permitted by application to the court for that particular case.
Accordingly, the firm is fully equipped to handle cases for clients anywhere it
may take them.
Sterns & Walker has been in business specializing in major aviation and other
serious injury and damage cases for over thirty years, which enabled us to
develop an extensive network of experts and consultants upon whom we can rely
for practical and expert assistance in any kind of case. We also developed and
maintain a good working relationship with most of the major insurers both in the
United States and in the London market. Separate from that, Sterns & Walker has
established a formidable record in court.
Sterns & Walker, with Gerald Sterns leading the way, recently won an
important passenger right‟s case before the United States Supreme Court
involving the death of a passenger aboard an Olympic Airways flight due to
exposure of second-hand smoke. Olympic Airways v. Husain, 540 U.S. 644
While Gerald Sterns has been involved in hundreds of cases over the years
and have obtained very substantial recoveries for clients by way of either trial,
settlement or arbitration, as a matter of policy and what we perceive to be our
ethical obligations to our clients, we do not publish or disseminate these
numbers unless they are already a matter of public record in court files (as was
the case with Air Philippines settlement). The amount of a client‟s recovery,
certainly by settlement and to some extent from a jury trial or arbitration, are
matters of intense private concern to the client. Sterns & Walker are aware
that there are other attorney websites that continually use specific numbers
with respect to results and in some cases are referred to named clients. We do
not do this nor do we disseminate numbers representing settlements,
judgments, verdicts or otherwise, nor do we identify clients by name. In some
cases we have been asked for references from former clients and we are
pleased to do this if the former client consents and is agreeable to talk about
their case, but only in that situation.
We hope all that read this will understand why we maintain this policy and
understand that in our extensive experience we have achieved and obtained
substantial award referral from many clients consistent with those which are
made public by other law firms.
In a state of over two hundred thousand attorneys, Gerald Sterns was
named by the magazine California Lawyer as one of the top 25 attorneys in the
state. Gerald Sterns thirty-five plus years of experience translates into one of the
few aviation attorneys whose wins against major airlines have been affirmed at
the U.S. Supreme Court. Jerry specializes in plaintiff's litigation referrals on
major aviation, products liability and other catastrophic claims, both nationally
and internationally. Jerry was best described in “The Last Nine Minutes of Flight
“Sterns ambled into court a living expression of the
California legal system. He had been trained in it. He believed
in it. And he applied it with deadly effectiveness.”
Honor law school graduate University of California, Hastings,
Editor of the Law Review, Order of the Coif, other awards.
Achieved above while working no less than two sometimes
three or four jobs while going to law school.
17 years experience as the Aviation partner in the firm Walkup,
Downing & Sterns in San Francisco before opening own office
Admitted to the bars of California and Hawaii, a number of
federal appellate circuits and the United States Supreme Court,
and also appeared pro hac vice (with admission of the specific
court) in at least 20 other jurisdictions.
Argued and won the case before the United States Supreme
Court Olympic Airways v. Husain, 540 U.S. 644 (2004).
Named one of California‟s top trial attoneys of the year by the
California Attoney Magazine.
Listed in “Best Attoneys in America” since its inception.
Member of a number of honorary and professional
organizations, the more prominent of which is the International
Academy of Trial Attoneys fellow for over 25 years. This is an
international organizational limited to 500 of the top trial
attorneys as selected by peer review, both attoneys and judges.
Other organizations: you can pick whatever sounds the best
from the listings in the Martindale Hubble firm bio (copy
Faculty, San Francisco Law School, 17 years
Interviewed on a number of television, radio stations and a
number of media outlets including 60 minutes, 20/20, Wolf
Blitzer, CNN, BBC, Fox News and others.
Staff: NEED TEXT
Edna Davis: (please make this in a new window in PDF form so the visitor
Doesn‟t leave the website. We wanna keep „em Here.)
The firm is based in Northern California but as indicated handles cases
literally worldwide. We often associate with other attorneys and firms in
particular cases depending on where the case needs to be litigated and what its
For instance, we are a relatively small and highly focused firm and when
larger resources are needed to process a case we routinely team with a larger
litigation firm and the combination of our experience and expertise in
Aviation and coupled with the litigation prowess of our co-venturers has
proven very successful over the years. We have contacts in almost every
major city and state in the United States and work closely with attorneys
overseas as needed.
Our experience and access to a very wide variety of experts in all disciplines
is equal to that of any other firm in the country. The kinds of cases that we
are called upon to handle often require a wide variety of expertise and skill for
consulting case preparation, the expert reports and of course the actual
testimony at trial. Some of the areas involved include piloting and
airmanship; weather and meteorology; failure analysis; flight engineering;
airline crew training and procedures; crashworthiness; analysis and
investigation of accidents and accident reconstruction; metallurgy;
communications and tape recording analysis; examiners of questioned
documents; forensic medicine and surgery; radiology; and, yes, in one case a
horticultural expert on oleander bushes.
On cases that actually have to go to trial we have available some of the finest
jury analysts, consultants and psychologists, who assist greatly in the analysis
and advice with respect to prospective jurors and pinpointing potential biases
and prejudices that would impact adversely on our clients and their cases.
Aviation cases: Our success in the federal appellate courts
Olympic Airways v. Husain 540 U.S. 644 (2004). This was a landmark case in
passenger rights and interpreting the Warsaw Convention as to the meaning and the
extent of the word “Accident,” which is a requirement in order to trigger any
responsibility of the airline on an international flight. This case involved an asthmatic
California doctor returning to the United States from a vacation in Egypt and Greece.
The family had requested non-smoking seats as far away from the smokers as possible
because of the doctor‟s condition. The airline assured them that the seats were such but
when they got on the airplane they found they were seated directly in front of the
smoking section, which is actually potentially must worse because the smoke would be
blown directly forward at the doctor. Three requests of the wife to the flight attendant
and staff for assistance or move to another seat were ignored or literally blown off. They
were told the flight was full and he could not be moved. This was not true the flight was
not full, and moreover, thirty some seats were occupied by Olympic personnel flying
We won the case in the district court at trial with the judge awarding $2.8 million dollars
in damages. Olympic appealed to the 9th Circuit and then to the United States Supreme
Court arguing that the failure of the flight staff to do anything that does not respond
affirmatively could not be a “accident”, as their conduct, right or wrong, was a negative
thing; that is, nothing happened, there was no event. In order for there to be a Warsaw
“accident” there had to be a happening or an event, such as a crash or falling baggage or
something of that sort. In short the argument was failure to act standing alone could
never be a Warsaw “accident.”
The Supreme Court held that in this situation the failure of a flight attendant respond to a
demonstrated potential medical emergency violated both the internal airline rules as well
as industry standards, in that this failure was unexpected and external from the
passenger‟s point of view, such that it was an unexpected event and qualified as an
accident. This was a most important case in international transportation law because the
high court in Britain had held exactly the opposite, i.e., the failure of an airline crew to
respond to a passenger request was a “non event” and not an accident.
Hosaka v. United Airlines, 305 F.3d 989, 993-94 (9th Cir. 2002. This is another
important case for passenger rights. After United lost this case in the 9th Circuit the
Supreme Court declined to hear this case so it stands as binding law in the 9th Circuit and
very persuasive authority in the other circuits. This case involves a question of whether
or not the passenger‟s choice of venue, i.e., to elect to sue in the United States, could be
undercut by the application of what is known as a doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens
(FNC). In short, FNC is just what it sounds, a claim that the chosen U.S. forum is
inconvenient and that some other country is a more appropriate location for the case to be
heard. U.S. defendants invariably attempted to invoke this defense against overseas
claimants in order to keep the case out of the United States and force the claimant back
into the courts of another country where the damage award would be much lower, even
assuming that the case could be put together which in many cases it cannot because of the
procedural and legal limitations in those countries, and the lack of discovery and
In this case a number of Japanese travelers on the Untied Airlines flight suffered injuries
when the aircraft struck severe turbulence without warning. This was clearly a Warsaw
“accident” but United challenged the right of the Japanese plaintiffs to sue in the United
States, even though United was a U.S. based carrier, and that domicile was one of the
specific venue options given passengers by the Warsaw Convention. The district court
dismissed the case on the basis of FNC.
The 9th Circuit, in a unanimous decision, reversed holding that, as we argued, because the
selection of the place of trial is given to the plaintiff as one of four options by the Warsaw
Convention, and that convention is a treaty of the United States, it supersedes any
contrary local law, including the doctrine of FNC. That is to say, the treaty gives the
plaintiff the absolute right to choose the venue or place of trial. An FNC dismissal in fact
gives the defendant the choice and this is not permitted. The decision in this case assures
overseas travelers of a fair chance at trial in the United States when either they are
traveling to the Untied States as a destination or they are traveling on a United States
based air carrier.
King v. Cessna Aircraft Company – this decision is one out of
the 11th Circuit, the one that recently came down in the King Milan case ( I don‟t
have the cite for it, it will be published decision and for now we will leave the cite as
_______ Fed 2nd_____ (2007)…[I’ll get Eric or someone to plug in this number for
you later.] King was a very important decision from the 11th Circuit which also raised
the issue of Forum Non Conveniens. Since King was not a passenger on a U.S. airline
there was no case issue involved as in Hosaka.
The King claim was against Cessna Aircraft Company which was trying to demonstrate
an airplane on the runway in Linate Milan, Italy when it collided with the SAS Aircraft in
which King‟s daughter was a passenger, killing her. There were other cases filed in the
same court regarding the same accident from plaintiffs from seven different European
countries, also suing Cessna. The district judge dismissed the overseas claimants on the
basis of FNC (again, a big break for Cessna of course) but felt constrained that it could
not dismiss the King case because King was an American citizen.
Instead it basically put King into legal limbo, i.e., to the case off calendar and off the
active list to “stand by” until the cases that were dismissed presumably got refilled and
litigated in Italy. The problem with this of course is that it left a totally open-ended time
frame, i.e., the cases might or might not ever get litigated in Italy and the legal questions
might or might not ever get decided, in which case the King case would stay in legal
In the 11th Circuit, we encountered some resistance in that there was no final judgment
against King and therefore there was nothing for the circuit court to review. We
prevailed on both points, i.e., the court decided, yes, that his decision even though not a
final judgment effectively put King out of court; and we summarily reversed district court
in order to immediately restore King to the active trial calendar and continue with the
case. Our firm was significantly aided in this effort by co-venturers on this litigation, the
Podhurst firm from Miami and Bowles & Verna from California.
For good background information, we refer the reader to an article authored by Mr.
Sterns concerning the dilemma faced by a domestic passenger who runs into any sort of
misunderstanding or confrontation with a flight attendant. Coffee, Tea or Handcuffs
how easy it is for a flight attendant to have a passenger taken off a flight, usually in
handcuffs, and often subject to further police or FBI follow-up investigation, not a pretty
picture at all.
The short answer is that there are federal statutes and regulations which the courts have
decided as interpreted, give the captain of a flight virtually unfettered authority to remove
any passenger from the airplane when the captain makes a determination that passenger is
going to present a threat or problem to the orderly and safe conduct of the flight. The
regulation actually requires the passenger who demonstrates behavior that is “inimical” to
a safe operation of the flight, but its interpretation is much broader than that. As the
article points out, the real problem arises in that the captain can only make this decision
based on information he obtained from the flight attendant. The captain is required to
remain in the locked flight deck and has no personal knowledge of what went on in the
cabin, as between the passenger and the flight attendant. If the captain acts directly
thereon, it is basically the flight attendant making the decision to eject the passenger.
But so far these cases have been unreviewable in the courts and no damages can be
proved. Best advice we can give at this point in this post-911 era in the air is to not allow
yourself to get into any situation where you have an argument, a confrontation or a near
confrontation with a flight attendant, over anything. And if there is to be any discussion
with a member of the flight crew by all means stay in your seat to do so unless you are
specifically requested by the flight crew to get out of the seat. Most people get in trouble
in this area are those who are not in the seat when the encounter starts..
These regulations cited above probably also will apply on international flights but
different countries have different rules, and it is doubtful if there is anything as Draconian
as the “Flight Attendant decides handcuffs” situation that we have in the U.S. today.
International flights are governed by the Warsaw Convention, and as we pointed out and
in order for there to be any actionable right against the airline for any conduct there have
to be two things: First, an “accident‟” must occur that is defined by the Supreme Court of
the United States as a happening or event (but also to include negative conduct as we
have seen in Husain) that is external to the passenger, and unexpected from the
passenger‟s point of view and not associated with the normal operation of the airplane.
For instance, the leading case Air France v. Saks, the United States Supreme Court found
that a woman who ruptured a ear drum due to the change in pressure on an aircraft‟s
“descent” into Los Angeles International Airport did not suffer a Warsaw accident even
though the event was both external (change of pressure) and unexpected. It was thought
about only by the normal operation of the airplane in that it had to depressurize in order
Second: The other limitation on Warsaw international claims is that under the present
interpretation of Article 17, there must be an actual physical or bodily “injury” in order to
have a viable cause of action. Mental distress, emotional distress, fear of flying, post
traumatic stress disorder, and all other related mental and emotional situations standing
alone are not enough. This is an important distinction that was drawn by the United
States Supreme Court in its interpretation of the original 1929 Warsaw Convention in a
case called Floyd v. Eastern Airlines. The facts there were very straight forward and
illustrate the problems for the passengers brought about by this interpretation.
On a flight from Miami to the Bahamas, the two-engine aircraft developed problems with
both engines. The pilot felt like he would not be able to recover power and advised
passengers that he was preparing to ditch into the ocean. Understandably there was great
fear and concern and anxiety among the passengers. The crew, however, managed to get
the engines going again and returned safely to Miami airport without a crash and without
A number of the passengers who suffered significant emotional reaction to all of this sued
for damages. The Supreme Court held no case in that the Warsaw Convention as
originally drawn recognized only physical injury (taking from the original French text of
the Warsaw Convention) and mental injury alone would not suffice. This decision has
been followed and has generated a line of difficult and disappointing cases. The most
recent one comes from a case involving a woman passenger who awoke to find that her
male adjoining seat occupant had unzipped his pants, pulled her hand over on his private
parts and was using her hand to “excite himself.” She of course was terrified and
humiliated and presented evidence to the court that she had suffered very severe
psychological fallout from all of this. But there was no “physical injury” in the literal
sense, nothing cut, nothing broken and so on. Unfortunately, the court rejected the
argument the mere hostile touching by the fellow passenger, which at common law would
have been a battery per se and would entitle the woman to damages, did not get over the
“physical injury” hurdle and that she had no case.
One footnote of interest on these points: the Warsaw Convention of 1929 has now been
replaced with what is known as the Montreal Protocol of the Montreal Agreement of
1999. This is rewriting of the Warsaw system and the convention has been given a new
name, i.e., “Montreal” and this was ratified by the United States Senate in 1994, and is
now in force. No courts have yet dealt with this issue. We expect that it will arise, i.e.,
someone will make the argument perhaps, hopefully successfully, that the Montreal
Convention being drafted in the early 90‟s as opposed to post WW1 and up to 1929,
would have access to much more sophisticated and advanced information concerning
mental injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, fear of flying and such things, and we
would literally see them as real manifestations of real injury to the body without the
artificial distinction of “physical injury.” The original Warsaw Convention used a French
term, “leision coporalle” which according to the French writers was at a time limited to
physical injury as opposed to “leision mental” which was not well understood and not
recognized. We will have to wait to see how that develops in the courts.
Whether or not the Montreal or Warsaw Convention or one of its versions applies
depends on upon what has been done in the country where the airline in question is
domiciled. As to all U.S. carriers, the Montreal Convention is now law and will be
applied in all U.S. courts. This is not necessarily true in other carriers and the passenger
needs to check carefully what the status is.
Also, whether or not either Convention applies depends upon if the passenger is in
“International Transportation” or not. This definition in turn depends upon the ticketing
and origin of the flight and its destination. Generally speaking, most of the major airlines
come from countries that have adopted the new Montreal Convention and are members of
the treaty organization. The only time it gets tricky is when either the country of
departure or country of destination has not signed or ratified one or more of the treaties or
is adhering to an older version. In such cases, the available damages and the measure
thereof can be significantly different and the careful analysis of the ticketing and itinerary
Terrorism, Security and the Law –
Do I really have to take my shoes off?
The events of September 11, 2001, raised a number of questions exactly
as to what are the legal rights of victims and survivors given the fact that
in that situation the immediate cause of the deaths and damages were, of
course, acts of terrorists. There are however, earlier parallels in the law of
situations involving potential liability of airlines and security companies in
terrorist type situations, mostly hijacking or disturbed passengers getting
on board an aircraft with a weapon. Our firm has been involved with a
number of these cases and we comment briefly on them for your guidance.
Any sort of terrorist act or assault would, of course, be an “accident” and
trigger underlying liability under the Warsaw or Montreal Conventions
because as to the passengers, these are clearly “accidents.” Domestic
cases are different; the liability would have to be proven by showing that
the airline, the security or both were negligent in how the screening
operation was conducted. If, however, the screening operation as is now
the norm is conducted by the Transportation Security Administration, this
being an arm of the Federal Government, may well have the same
immunity as the FAA formerly had with respect to errors allowing
terrorists or criminals aboard aircraft with weapons. Presumably, the rule
will stay the same, i.e. the airline and security company (non-
governmental) could be sued but probably not the government itself.
As to the 9/11 victims, Congress probably recognizing the very difficult
case that the ground victims, as opposed to the passengers in the airplane,
families would have in attempting to establish any cause of action against
either the airline or the security company, enacted a special piece of
legislation, Airline Victim‟s Compensation Bill. This Bill provides for
federal money to be paid out upon the evaluation of cases by a Special
Master by anyone suffering damages from the 9/11 terrorist attack,
without having to prove fault. The case, however, could not be taken to
court but had to be presented before the Special Master. Most of the 9/11
families took advantage of the fund payout rather than going to court.
There are still a number of cases pending against the airlines the then
private security companies which are still in litigation in the federal court
in New York.
Interestingly enough, successful settlements were made on behalf of most
all victims in all of the high profile terrorism cases including Lockerbie,
Entebbe (the hijacking of El Al aircraft with involvement by Edi Admin)
and the Comoros Islands hijacking, and the Burke/PSA crew shooting.
Working with Sterns & Walker
Most all of our cases are handled on what is called a contingency fee
basis, this means that our law firm is not paid any fee and the client does
not owe us any money unless and until a recovery is made by way of
settlement at trial or otherwise. The client then pays only the agreed fee,
which represents a percentage of the recovery, out of the recovered funds.
In this matter, the client does not owe any attorneys‟ fees to the law firm
unless there is a successful outcome.
In addition, in most cases, the firm either directly or in conjunction with
other attorneys working on the case, will be in a position to advance most,
if not all, of the litigation expenses that are necessarily incurred in the
investigation, preparation and, if required, trial of the case. While these
expenses can be very substantial they are very necessary in order to
properly prepare complex cases and have the appropriate experts on board.
We discuss arrangements with respect to advancement and repayment of
expenses in detail ahead of time with each client on each case and keep the
client advised of the level of expense. The arrangement with the client is a
true contingency fee.
(c) Other law firms. Most of the work done by Sterns & Walker is
actually referred to us by other law firms, not only in California, but
around the country and sometimes from overseas. In such cases, we
always try to make some sort of working arrangement with the associating
firm regarding a fair division of fees or work done and responsibility
assumed, with the consent of the client(s) and in accordance with the State
Bar of California rules concerning sharing of fees. We invite discussions
with individual firms on this matter on a case by case basis.
Verdicts and settlements (PDF)
9. Contact Us - a “form” page without leaving the website.
Type of Case: (250 characters)
Brief Description (2500 characters)
Sterns & Walker is located in Oakland and San Francisco, California
Oakland San Francisco
Sterns & Walker Sterns & Walker
The Clock Tower Building 580 California Street, #500
901 Clay Street San Francisco, CA 94104
Oakland, CA 94607
Telephone: 510-267-0500 Telephone: 415-255-4700
Fax: 510-267-0506 Fax: 415-255-4747