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A Houston jury has 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 — the wife of the then-mayor of Houston, Bob Lanier — traveled to New York to have the jewelry cleaned professionally at her friend Nina Silberstein’s Park Avenue jewelry shop. After visiting New York and having the jewels cleaned at Silberstein’s firm, David Webb Precious Jewels, Lanier arrived at Newark International Airport on Oct. 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. 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. Through a subrogation suit by her insurance company, Lanier sued Continental Airlines and its security subcontractor at Newark International, Total Services Inc. (ITS). Lanier v. Continental Airlines, No. 98-47716 (Harris Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). 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 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 the moment she placed her purse on the conveyor belt. Thus, Lanier argued, ITS had a duty to return the purse in the condition in which she surrendered it to them. A MYSTERIOUS ‘BUMP’ Michael Richardson of Dallas’ 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 ever went through the X-ray machine. Since Lanier said she was bumped while at the machine, Richardson said there was speculation that she was the victim of thieves. Richardson noted that the incident occurred before Sept. 11, 2001, when the airlines were responsible for security screening. He said that the airlines developed checkpoint security procedures with the Federal Aviation Administration. The jury found that if there was a bailment between Lanier and ITS, ITS did not fail to comply with it. In addition, the jury found that ITS was not negligent in the incident, but that Lanier was.

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