Qantas Screaming Child Lawsuit Reportedly Settles

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.


Kudos: CCD

18 thoughts on “Qantas Screaming Child Lawsuit Reportedly Settles”

  1. Thank you for the good writeup. It if truth be told was
    a leisure account it. Look advanced to far introduced agreeable from you!
    However, how could we be in contact?

  2. I write a blog about parenthood and had two questions for Professor Turley that I think other parents might share.

    First, does this case have any bearing on future situations in which a baby or toddler might cry on a plane? For example, will airlines or flight attendants feel more pressure to try to isolate parents and children, or take more overt actions to stop a child’s fussiness when it happens for fear of a lawsuit?

    Second: Why do you think Jean Barnard sued the airline instead of the parents of the child?

    Thank you so much,

  3. I don’t think it’s asking too much for airline companies to be required to move people who are unhappy with their seats. Even though most flights are booked solid these days, there’s usually someone willing to trade seats. If you are placed in an exit row against your will, they are required to move you, so there must be some opportunity to accommidate move requests. The same courtesy should apply to being seated next to unruly children or obese people who take up part of your seat space.

  4. Prof. Turley, sorry for your experience. You’re a very empathetic tolerant man. The kid was probably having ear problems. My worst experience was sitting in a puddle jumper next to a man who had to weigh 350 pounds.

    As for the ear issue, I had my ear drum pierced during an experiment with radio waves conducted by my basketball coach/physics teacher in High School. I felt a very sharp pain in the ear. I didn’t have any blood coming out, but I was definitely deaf in the ear and the MD could see a hole in the ear drum, which eventually closed up. My mother was afraid to tell my litigator father because she was afraid he’d sue the school and I’d be embarrassed. I was the only girl in the class and was constantly being harrassed.

    1. Isabel:

      That is a terrible story — not to mention being the only girl in the class. I hope the demographics were better schoolwide!

  5. children are children. how is Qantas responsible for the actions of someone elses child? other than getting an air marshal to taze the child a few times what are they supposed to do? lock the child in the lavatory?


    i’ve always wanted to ride the amtrak cascade. sounds like a good way to see the northwest.

  6. Blouise

    Let me know when there’s a chunnel to Australia. I’ve always wanted to go there.

  7. … and there is toilet paper in one’s own private shower/toilet facility.

  8. I don’t fly … ever … anywhere … I pretend it’s sometime in the late 1800’s and the only mode of mass transportation is a train or a steamboat.

    Every one of my friends and family members accept this and all emergencies are put on hold awaiting the Amtrak schedule or the motorcar route.

    I flew 3 times in the ’80’s and each time was a complete disaster From what I’ve heard and read it’s all gotten worse.

    Amtrak has lovely suites, dinning cars, and interesting people to talk to over drinks in the lounge car. One can relax in one’s suite, read, watch the world go by through the window and have breakfast delivered to one’s room. No vomiting, screaming children, no crowded seating, no long lines or cancelled reservations, and one arrives fresh and well rested at one’s destination.

  9. Kids (or overly chatty passengers) on planes typically don’t bother me as the first thing I do is put the iPod on, turn up the volume if need be, and hunker down for a good nap. I do, however, take issue with kids kicking the back of my seat – especially when the parents feign innocence at their child’s actions …

    I think airlines should develop a separate, soundproof, “family” section on planes similar to what they used to have for smokers!

    Professor – LOL, you have my every sympathy!

  10. But then again, Nobility ranks Laurels. I think I’ll just take Laurel…..

  11. You are much kinder than I would have been at the time professor.

  12. All small children should be required to wear deep sea diving helmets for the duration of the flight when flying. The helmets need not be pressurized.

  13. “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.”

    Not quite true….cabin pressure changes cause pain to infants and children, who don’t yet know how to assist in equalizing thier little inner ears. This is fact, science, known and planned for in flying. Bad airlines, no cookies.

    Another good reason not to fly….

  14. You left it on the plane?

    They didn’t call the bomb squad to check out a suspicious ‘vomit exploding’ package did they? I would call that a weapon of terror.

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