Sexually Molested on a Plane?

Sexually Molested on a Plane?
When The Friendly Skies Aren't So Friendly

Southwest Airlines Sued for Sexual Assault of 13 Year Old

This story is every parent’s worst nightmare. Every child’s too. It begins 2 days after Christmas in 2019 when a family was returning home from a trip. Mom was on board a Southwest Airlines flight for a 2.5 hour trip to their home in San Antonio. Unfortunately, the family couldn’t all sit in the same row. Mom sat with the 5 year old while her 13 year old daughter and another child sat further back in the plane.

The daughter – we will call her by her initials “C.D.” – had the misfortune to sit next to 25 year old Anthony Ryan. Witnesses say that Ryan was already drunk when he boarded the flight.

Airlines have a duty to keep passengers safe but if C.D.’s story is true, they failed miserably. In fact, we believe they aided and abetted this horrific attack.

After the flight took off, Ryan began pounding drinks. Remember, he had already been drinking before he got on the plane.  Cops investigating the assault believe that he had three beers, a shot of Tito’s vodka and “3 Open Liquor LS BumpUpPremium” drinks in the airport.

Flight attendants are all trained in safe serve guidelines. Anyone working in the service industry knows that mean you don’t serve a visibly intoxicated person. Many airlines limit passengers to two drinks… and that’s if you are sober. A Southwest flight attendant served him three more beers and a shot of tequila. And this after telling him to “slow down.”

By our count, he had 11 drinks in him.

According to her complaint and the police report,

“Ryan was seated next to the 13-year-old minor Plaintiff. The minor Plaintiff was forced to deal with Ryan’s harassment, which started with drunken attempts to converse with C.D. and eventually (after consuming several rounds of Southwest Airlines furnished alcohol) turned physical. According to the police report, Ryan was ‘a danger to himself and others” and “could not keep his hands to himself while on the plane.” Ryan began sexually harassing other female passengers seated on the other side of the aisle and in front of him. C.D., stuck next to Ryan, bore the brunt of his aggressive behavior. Each time the flight attendant served Ryan drink, he became more flirtatious and aggressive. Near the end of the flight, Ryan began fondling the 13-year-old Plaintiff’s breasts under her blanket and reached his hand between her legs. Embarrassed and afraid, C.D. was unable to scream but pushed his hand away while praying that the plane would hurry and land.”

Fortunately, the mother of a different 13 year old girl reported Ryan’s disturbing behavior. Flight attendants required him to move and had San Antonio Police waiting at the airport.

A tearful C.D. then related what happened. Anthony Ryan was arrested. A court will determine his fate.

Fortunately, C.D.’s mother also chose to sue Southwest Airlines. We say fortunately because they had every opportunity to prevent this behavior. What was obvious to other passengers either wasn’t obvious to the airline or the flight attendants just didn’t care. Despite his worsening behavior, they continued to ply Ryan with more alcohol.

Why would they keep serving him? Because the airline makes money from drink sales. Millions of dollars each month.

Airlines can be held accountable when their negligence causes injury. For C.D., those injuries are emotional but nevertheless serious.

How was Southwest Airlines negligent? Let’s count the ways:

  • Failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of children on their aircraft.;
  • Failing to implement, maintain and enforce safety policies and procedures that reasonable and prudent airline would have adopted under similar circumstances;
  • Failing to provide adequate training to its flight attendants regarding safety policies and procedures;
  • Failing to exercise reasonable care in the hiring, supervision and retention of flight attendants;
  • Failing to exercise reasonable care to protect minor passengers;
  • Failing to re-locate an intoxicated male passenger who on its plane sat next to 13- year-old female passenger;
  • Failing to adequately and competently monitor passengers to ensure safety aboard the plane;
  • Failing to adequately monitor the behavior of passenger being served alcohol;
  • Violating its own policies and state law by serving multiple rounds of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated and who was becoming increasing obnoxious to female passengers seated near him; and
  • Otherwise failing to act in way that an ordinary airline would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.

The criminal courts will decide what happens to Ryan. As we have said in this blog many times, suing a sex offender or molester is almost a waste of time. Ryan will likely wind up in prison and probably doesn’t have the financial resources to pay for the harm he is created.

The deep pocket is the airline and as a common carrier, they have a heightened duty to prevent these incidents from happening.

This case is brought under Texas law. In Texas, like in most states, victims of sexual assault can receive compensation for past and future mental anguish, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and therapy and counseling expenses. If C.D. was an adult, she could also collect damages for lost wages.

If the jury finds the airline was grossly negligent, Southwest Airlines may also be responsible for punitive damages. In Texas, those damages are capped.  Generally in Texas, punitive or “exemplary” damages cannot be more than the value of two times economic damages awarded to a victim plus the amount equal to their award for non-economic damages (up to $750,000). If there were no economic damages, punitive damages are capped at $200,000.

Was Your Son or Daughter Sexually Abused on an Airplane?

The heading above says “son or daughter” since most adults are able to speak up and defend themselves. Under the law, it doesn’t matter. Anyone sexually assaulted on a plane can bring a claim for damages.

Our team and national network of sexual abuse and sexual harassment lawyers can help you get the justice your family deserves. We are dedicated to putting an end to sexual misconduct anywhere it occurs and in obtaining the maximum compensation for those hurt by the actions of predators. Even if the assault was committed by another passenger, the airline may still be liable, especially if they were aware of a potential problem before the assault took place and served alcohol to the offender.

Attorney Brian Mahany is a former police officer, prosecutor, and board member of the Family Violence Project. He is also a former volunteer with the Sexual Assault Crisis and Assault Center. 

If you or your son or daughter was molested or sexually assaulted on a plane, bus or train, we can help. For general information, visit our sexual assault victim’s page. To see of you have a case, contact attorney Brian Mahany. He and his network can be reached online, by email [hidden email] or by phone at 877.858.8018. All inquiries are kept strictly confidential.

* We remind everyone that all suspects are guilty until proven guilty. That Anthony Ryan was arrested does not mean he is guilty.

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Related topics: children (5) | sexual abuse (27) | sexual assault (25) | sexual predator (8)


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