A 21-year-old woman, Centava Dozier, has filed a $200,000 lawsuit against American Airlines for alleged negligence that led to another passenger masturbating on a flight next to her and ejaculating in her hair. The case will pit the higher duties of a common carrier against the concept of a superseding intervening act. Notably, this is not the first such attack of this kind — adding to the foreseeability element.
Centava Dozier was on a flight to Los Angeles from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport when the incident occurred. Click here. She is alleging a classic negligence theory of a failure of flight attendants to take steps after they noticed that a man had switched seats. Dozier had fallen asleep early in the flight and woke up to find a man staring at her while masturbating. She immediately found that the man had ejaculated in her hair. She further says that the flight attendants did not respond when she began to cry and ask for help. Another passenger ultimately comforted her. The man was arrested after the flight.
Under common law torts, a common carrier must exercise the highest degree of care for the passengers’ safety and is responsible for the slightest negligence. However, criminal or intentional torts are generally (but not always) treated as superseding intervening causes — cutting off proximate causation. However, some criminal act must be anticipated, particularly by common carriers. Such foreseeability was at the heart of the decision in Brower v. NY Central & HRR (NJ Sup. Ct., 1918) where a railroad was treated as liable for the theft of cider and other goods after an accident with a wagon.
While it is hard to believe, it turns out the airlines have had to deal with such sexual assault in past flights with sleeping women, including a recent similar attack by a Northwest Airlines employee, here.
This history and the alleged unresponsiveness of the flight attendants may be enough to get this to a jury. The grotesque nature of the attack is likely to have a pronounced impact on a jury.
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