Yet another incident in the cabin of an aircraft has resulted in severe injuries and potentially permanent disfigurement to an unsuspecting passenger. But, unlike another highly publicized incident where a man was injured while being forcibly removed, Mr. Marlin Jackson suffered punctures to the lip and gum, and was missing large chunks of flesh from his face following a brutal attack by an emotional support dog accompanying a Marine veteran. The dog, a 4-year old, 50-pound Labrador retriever/pointer mix was permitted by Delta to sit on the Marine’s lap in the middle seat, next to Mr. Jackson, who was seated next to the window. The dog allegedly began growling as soon as Mr. Jackson took his seat, and before the plane could take off, the dog lunged at Mr. Jackson, pinning him against the window. According to reports, the dog was temporarily restrained but wrestled free from its owners control again, initiating a second wave of attack. The owner and the animal were then moved to another flight, where the animal was secured in a crate.
This incident raises questions about several sensitive issues. Following the extreme public backlash at United following the forced removal of a passenger, the major airlines are certainly going to be hesitant to take action that could result in similar backlash, and separating a Marine veteran from his service dog could certainly yield such a result. However, airlines have a duty to balance an over-abundance of caution with regard to public appearance with reasonable efforts to ensure passenger safety. Mr. Jackson, as an invitee (one who enters for a purpose relating to the owner’s interests or activities) was owed a duty by Delta to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries caused by activities conducted on its property. In determining the reasonableness of the actions, courts will measure the actions against the “reasonably prudent person” under the same or similar circumstances. In this case, the “reasonably prudent person” will be other airlines, and applicable policies or procedures in the airline industry. Delta’s own policy on service animals states, “with larger service animals . . . we may need to re-accommodate you if the animal encroaches on other passengers or extends into aisles . . .” What constitutes a larger service animal remains unclear, but it is hard to imagine what animals wouldn’t constitute a large service animal if a 50-pound Labrador mix does not. Moreover, most airline cabins are hardly spacious enough to fit a small carry-on item under the seat, much less a 50-pound animal in someone’s lap. Thus, it is likely that the presence of the animal alone was sufficient to constitute an encroachment on the passengers on either side of the Marine veteran.
This incident begs the question of if the discretion granted to the airline crew is too broad, and if the crew has received proper training for making such determinations. The Delta policies are ambiguous as to what constitutes an encroachment or whether a passenger must complain about an encroachment before the animal is removed, leaving the airline crew with the discretion to make the determinations for each case individually. The theories of Delta’s liability for Mr. Jackson’s injuries are numerous, ranging from premises liability to negligence.
In developing litigation strategy, the plaintiff should seek compensation from the party most fiscally secure to give him or herself the opportunity for the greatest recovery possible. While dog owners also generally have a duty to protect others from harm caused by the animal if the owner knows the animal has a propensity for violence (depending on the applicable state law), the plaintiff in this case should seek recovery from the billion-dollar airline corporation, rather than the 24-year old Marine veteran who suffers from an emotional ailment. Delta will likely be more than willing to satisfactorily compensate Mr. Jackson for his injuries through settlement to avoid trial and to try to minimize the public backlash.
Importantly, the societal considerations more likely than not adversely affected the discretion of the crew, and maybe the other passengers as well, as the last thing a passenger wants to do is create tension with a neighbor before the lengthy flight from Atlanta to San Diego takes off. But, as stated above, it is not the duty of the passengers on a flight to take reasonable steps to prevent harm; it is the duty of the airline, and unfortunately for Mr. Jackson, Delta utterly failed to take the reasonable steps necessary to prevent his injuries.
I have successfully tried dog bite cases in Court and am available to speak to you about your dog bite case. With my experience, I would be glad to speak with you at your convenience.Please note that the Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting dog bite cases throughout Georgia. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a dog attack, then please contact me immediately, as time if of the essence and crucial information and evidence needs to be secured as soon as possible