Jury Enforces FAA Zero Tolerance Standard for Unruly Passenger

Jury Enforces FAA Zero Tolerance Standard for Unruly Passenger

Partners Jeffrey S. Behar and Tina I. Mangarpan won a newsworthy and highly publicized jury trial for American Airlines. The case involved a 50-year-old Beverly Hills socialite who was a first class passenger aboard an American Airlines flight from JFK (New York) to LAX (Los Angeles). She was traveling with her dog, “Dom Perignon,” which was in a kennel under her seat. During the course of the flight, the dog repeatedly escaped the kennel. Plaintiff claimed that she was taking a nap when she was rudely awakened by flight attendants demanding that she keep the dog in the kennel and under the seat. Despite an explanation concerning a broken zipper, Plaintiff claimed that the captain left the cockpit of the DC-10 and hog-tied her with her own dog leash. Plaintiff claimed she was beaten by the captain.

The cast of the movie “Clueless” had just finished production and were flying from New York back to California for a movie wrap party. The well-known actors and actresses of the movie were passengers in the first class cabin and many of the celebrities testified on behalf of the airlines at time of trial.

Plaintiff sustained firbomyalgia and cervical disc herniation at C4-5. She was diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her medical bills exceeded $200,000.

By way of contentions, plaintiff claimed the captain was not justified in restraining her. Plaintiff’s behavior was not outrageous behavior, and she did not use profanity or make threats. She was restrained with her own dog leash in an inhumane and humiliating fashion.

Defendant argued plaintiff refused to keep the dog in its cage despite numerous requests. Plaintiff became increasingly belligerent to the point where she was screaming profanities. She was out of control. Numerous passengers testified that plaintiff was screaming obscenities and threatening to “kick out a window” or “open a door and kill you all.” The captain was unable to find the flex cuffs, so he used the dog leash because it was a soft leather material and unlikely to cause injury.

The case resulted in a defense verdict. The trial was featured in the California Lawyer magazine.

This case attracted national media attention and was covered by CBS, NBC, ABC, and the Los Angeles Times. The case was also watched closely by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the commercial airline industry as an example of the recent phenomenon of “air rage” and the newly enacted zero tolerance standard.