Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Domestic Violence on an International Flight

I woke up this morning and checked the news right away because we have been having some wicked winter weather here in Chicago. I teach a social justice class one day a week and wanted to see if school would be canceled today.

While perusing the Chicago Tribune site, I came across this story.

Basically a man hit his wife six times, in public, causing injuries to her face and lip. Rather than take responsibility for being abusive, he is suing United Airlines for over-serving him on the plane.
Responded United spokeswoman Jean Medina: "We believe that a lawsuit that suggests that we are somehow responsible for the consequences of a passenger's physical assault on his own wife is without any merit whatsoever."

Airlines are frequently sued for the acts of drunken passengers, typically by flight attendants or other passengers who suffered harm from an unruly traveler during a flight.

What makes this case a rarity, legal experts said, is that it was brought by a person drinking the airline's alcohol. By filing the lawsuit, the Shimamotos also risk having their private lives exposed by the airline's attorneys.

The idea that the server should have stopped serving is often accepted when the injury is to a third person, such as in a drunk-driving situation," Speta said. "Generally, the courts have not been receptive to people saying, 'I asked for the drink and you gave it to me.' "

But crafting United's defense will be tricky, legal experts said, because the case involves conflicting international and state law.

Ayisha Shimamoto's claim that she was harmed as a result of the carrier's negligence, one element of the couple's complaint, would be a likely slam-dunk if United's conduct in question had taken place in a bar, rather than on an international flight, legal experts said.

She was harmed because of the airline's negligence? No, she was harmed because she is a woman married to an abusive man. The scariest part is that the story is framed in such a way as to make it about international law when it is actually about domestic violence.