There is an interesting torts lawsuit involving Qantas Airline. American tourist Jean Barnard has sued after she was seated next to a screaming three-year-old boy who proceeded to scream so loud that she said blood ran from her ear and she became deaf. The parties announced that they may have reached a settlement this week.
Barnard was flying on holiday from New York to Australia and New Zealand in January on a Qantas flight for Darwin. That is when she encountered a Darwin-bound child who appears to have evolved an ability to maim people with his scream. The boy allegedly leaned back over his armrest and directed a blood-curdling scream that left her “stone cold deaf.” She was taken to the hospital. No one else was injured.
She filed in Los Angeles alleging negligence by the flight crew to prevent such injury — seeking damages for physical and mental suffering, medical expenses and loss of hearing and impairment of earning capacity.
Her lawyer, Brian Lawler, argued Qantas was negligent because the plane’s cabin and cockpit crew failed “to take all the necessary precautions to prevent the accident that resulted” in her “injury”.
Qantas is arguing, predictably, that this is like complaining about the weather. Load children, talkative seat mates, and snoring passengers go with not being able to charter private flights. In this case, they argue “Plaintiff’s injuries, if any, were caused by the arbitrary and volitional act of a three-year-old child.” They challenge the notion that the flight attendants could have seen the severity of this incident coming: “Flight attendants cannot predict when children aboard an aircraft are about to scream. There is no evidence that the child was screaming in the terminal, or on board the aircraft prior to the particular scream which allegedly caused the damage.” They also note that Barnard sent emails to another passenger admitting to prior hearing loss and wearing hearing aids.
Her case was not helped by an email that she sent to an employee, stating “I guess we are simply fortunate that my eardrum was exploding and I was swallowing blood. Had it not been for that, I would have dragged that kid out of his mother’s arms and stomped him to death. Then we would have an ‘international incident.'” That would have made this Darwin flight a survival of the fittest.
Barnard is the co-owner and senior partner of an international business consulting firm, and wrote that “my life came to an end January 16, 2009.” It appears that she has now settled the case, though it is unclear if the settlement involves a financial payment.
Since the case is settled, I will shamelessly recount my own recent flight “event.”
I was recently flying back from Lexington on Delta from a speech to the Kentucky Bar Association when I took a connector flight from Cincinnati to Washington. On the puddle jumper flight, I was seated next to a screaming two-year old girl on her mother’s lap who first poured her juice down the front of my suit and then later vomited not only over me but more impressively vomited directly into a bag of toys at my feet for my four kids. I had opened the bag looking for anything I could give the mother. When I was departing the flight, the Delta flight attendants looked at me covered head to toe in vomit and offered from a bottle of seltzer water for my suit. That fact is that after four kids I am immune from both kid noise and spills. I felt more sorry for the mother. I have been on such flights with my own kids vomiting. I did decide to throw the bag of toys away on the plane.