Lawsuit alleges the carrier fails in its duty to prevent, report, and respond to sexual assaults of passengers on its flights
San Francisco, December 16, 2019—(BUSINESSWIRE)—Lieff Cabraser, Tyler H. Fox and Maass Law announce the filing of a federal class action lawsuit in Denver on behalf of two Colorado residents alleging that Frontier Inc. has failed to have and follow policies and procedures to prevent, report, and respond to sexual assaults of passengers on its flights.
Passenger-on-passenger in-flight sexual assault is a well-known, and growing, problem. In 2018, the FBI issued a warning to airlines and to the public at large that the number of sexual assaults reported during commercial airline flights has been increasing “at an alarming rate.” As noted in the complaint, Frontier, like all airlines, has an affirmative duty to aid and protect its passengers, a duty that includes protecting passengers from sexual assaults by fellow passengers, and responding properly and effectively to in-flight sexual assaults that do occur.
“Frontier’s disregard for the safety of its passengers is cruel and careless,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Annika K. Martin, who brings the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs and the class. “Airlines are very powerful. Passengers are at the mercy of the airline. But with the airlines’ great power comes the legal responsibility to keep their passengers safe, including by protecting them from attacks by other passengers. Airlines must never put passengers at risk of being sexually assaulted by a fellow passenger on a flight.”
Filed on behalf of plaintiffs Lena Ramsay, Jane Doe, and all others similarly situated, the complaint alleges that Frontier violated its duty of care by failing to implement and enforce appropriate policies and procedures to prevent, or properly respond to, sexual assaults that occur on its flights; failing to report in-flight sexual assaults to the proper authorities, or indeed to any authorities; and failing to cooperate with authorities in the reporting and investigation process into in-flight sexual assaults. Frontier’s actions and inactions were – and are – part of a pattern of behavior and a common course of conduct towards all its passengers, including Plaintiffs and Class members.
Plaintiff Lena Ramsay’s claim stems from her sexual assault by a male passenger on a Frontier flight from Denver to Providence in October of 2018. She reported the incident to a Frontier flight attendant, but the flight attendant refused to let her switch seats, did not report the incident to anyone else, did not ask that law enforcement be contacted, and Frontier failed to cooperate and assist Ms. Ramsay with evidence concerning her sexual assault, including refusing to provide her or the FBI with the identities of her assailant and possible witnesses.
Ms. Ramsay says: “I did what a paid passenger is supposed to do by reporting the incident immediately to the flight attendant. I was victimized again by the lack of actions of the company.”
Plaintiff Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by a male passenger on a Frontier flight from Denver to Florida in November of 2018. Plaintiff Doe reported the sexual assault to a flight attendant, but the flight attendant refused to report the incident to anyone else, did not ask that law enforcement be contacted, and along with Frontier refused to cooperate in providing Plaintiff Doe with the identities of her attacker and potential witnesses.
Plaintiff Doe says: “An airline flight should never turn into a sexual assault to a passenger regardless of age or gender. I hope to create positive changes for the airline industry from this negative experience to help prevent further assaults from happening.”
News media have been reporting on the prevalence of in-flight sexual assaults for years. The FBI itself has noted the similarity of these crimes: “…agents describe elements of these crimes as being strikingly similar. The attacks generally occur on long-haul flights when the cabin is dark. The victims are usually in middle or window seats, sleeping, and covered with a blanket or jacket. They report waking up to their seatmate’s hands inside their clothing or underwear.”
The FBI has also noted should happen in response to a passenger reporting an incident to a member of the flight crew: “Flight attendants and captains represent authority on the plane … they can alert law enforcement, and they can sometimes deal with the problem in the air. The flight crew can also put the offender on notice, which might prevent further problems. If alerted in advance [by the pilot radioing ahead to the airport], FBI agents can be on hand when the plane lands to conduct interviews and take subjects into custody. FBI victim specialists can respond as well, because victims of federal crimes are entitled by law to a variety of services.”
Airplane passengers have little control over their surroundings. They are in cramped quarters, they cannot leave the plane until it lands, and they cannot engage in activities such as making phone calls or easily communicating with friends, family, or police authorities in the case of an emergency.
As a common transport carrier, Frontier has a special duty under common law to provide due care to ensure and protect and aid in the protection of passengers’ safety. Passengers entrust and have entrusted Frontier with this duty of care to ensure and protect and aid in the protection of their safety while they are passengers on a Frontier flight. As detailed in the sexual abuse class action complaint filed today, Frontier has repeatedly failed in its duty to protect and aid its passengers who are victims of sexual assault on its planes.
The lawsuit states claims for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and willful and wanton misconduct, and seeks compensatory and injunctive relief including an order that Frontier establish and implement a uniform policy including training and education for its staff, for how to respond to in-flight sexual assault that includes humane and trauma-informed treatment of alleged victims, as well as to centrally track all reports of in-flight sexual assault and to set a lifetime ban on passengers who commit sexual assault on Frontier flights.
Annika K. Martin
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
About Lieff Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser has a nearly 50-year history of successfully fighting for justice for victims, including victims of sexual predation and assault. We serve as Interim Class Counsel for thousands of plaintiff victims of sexual abuse by Dr. George Tyndall at USC’s student health center from August 1989 through June 2016, where we recently secured a class action settlement valued at $215 million that gives every survivor a choice in how to participate as well as mandating USC’s adoption and implementation of new procedures for the identification, prevention, and reporting of sexual and racial misconduct. We have a team of expert lawyers, nurse consultants, and paralegals experienced in working with, listening to, and supporting abuse survivors who work individually with every client in every case to see that justice is won. We treat each client with care, respect, and compassion as we bring our comprehensive legal skills to bear on each case. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you get justice.
About Tyler H. Fox
Attorney Tyler Fox is an attorney in Cambridge, MA, who represents victims of sexual harassment / assaults / abuse on a national basis. He has and is currently advocating and assisting clients who were victims of perpetrators including priests, doctors, private school teachers, and employers.
About Maass Law
Attorney Pamela B. Maass is the owner of Maass Law and has dedicated her career to advocating for survivors of sexual assault and fighting for the rights of women and children. A former Felony Deputy District Attorney, Pamela formed a civil practice representing survivors of sexual assault and abuse after seeing first-hand the challenges survivors have in the justice system when opposing powerful institutions and persons. Pamela secured a $1.2 million dollar premises liability verdict and a $4.2 million dollar motorcycle crash verdict for her clients at trial. Headquartered in Denver, Pamela provides legal planning support to families and represents women throughout Colorado and is available to act as co-counsel for victims of sexual assault throughout the U.S. Regardless of where you live, Pamela can help answer your questions or will listen if you simply need someone to talk to.