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Diamonds aren’t always forever, even for the jet set. A Houston jury told a socialite that she should have kept a closer eye on $600,000 worth of jewelry that vanished while she was passing through a New York area airport. In 1997 Elyse Lanier-wife of the then Houston mayor, Bob Lanier-traveled to New York to have the jewelry professionally cleaned at a Park Avenue shop. After the jewels were cleaned at David Webb Precious Jewels, Lanier arrived at Newark International Airport on October 7, 1997, for her return flight to Houston. While going through the security checkpoint en route to her Continental Airlines flight, Lanier placed her purse containing the jewels on the X-ray machine conveyor belt. Placing Blame Lanier’s purse vanished at some point between the time she placed it on the conveyor belt and the time she tried to retrieve it at the other end of the X-ray machine. Lanier’s insurance claim was paid. But her insurance company filed a subrogation suit, substituting one creditor for another, on its own behalf, with Lanier named as plaintiff. The defendant was Continental Airlines and its security subcontractor at Newark, International Total Services Inc. (ITS). According to one of Lanier’s attorneys, Kimberly Altsuler of Houston’s Coats, Rose, Yale, Ryman & Lee, there were two legal issues: the creation of a bailment, the act of delivering goods or personal property to another in trust; and the alleged negligence of Continental and ITS. The court granted summary judgment to Continental, and the trial proceeded against ITS. Lanier argued that a bailment was created when she placed her purse on the conveyor. ITS had a duty to return the purse in the condition in which she surrendered it, Lanier maintained. A Mysterious “Bump” Michael Richardson of Dallas’s Rose Walker, one of the attorneys representing ITS, countered that there was no bailment. In fact, Richardson said, there was no evidence that the purse even went through the X-ray machine. Since Lanier said she was physically bumped while at the machine, Richardson said there was speculation that she was the victim of thieves. Richardson pointed out that the incident occurred before September 11, 2001, when the airlines were responsible for security screening, and that they developed checkpoint security procedures with the Federal Aviation Administration without ITS input. On June 20 the jury sided with ITS, finding that if a bailment did occur between Lanier and ITS, the security company fulfilled its duties. The jury also found that ITS was not negligent in the incident-but Lanier was. This article originally appeared in The National Law Journal, a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel and part of American Lawyer Media.

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