JetBlue passengers can proceed with discovery in litigation over a pilot’s mid-air mental breakdown, a federal judge has ruled. On a March 2012 flight from New York to Las Vegas, JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon reportedly told his first officer the flight would not make its destination and ran in the aisles, ranting about religion, terrorism, bombs on board and 9/11. He was subdued by passengers after trying to reenter the cockpit he had been locked out of, and the plane made an emergency landing. Osbon was subsequently found not guilty by reason of insanity for interference with a flight crew.
Passengers sued Osbon and JetBlue on claims including assault, negligent supervision and negligent infliction of emotional distress. In some claims, the plaintiffs attempted to hold the airline responsible for his actions via the doctrine of respondeat superior. The airline sought dismissal, arguing Osbon’s conduct was not within the scope of his employment. But Eastern District Judge Jack Weinstein (See Profile) denied the motion during Jan. 3 proceedings.
According to a transcript, Jonathan Reiter of Manhattan, one of the attorneys for the passengers, noted that even if his clients had not sued the pilot, “we are still in a position where we are arguing that JetBlue is responsible under respondeat superior for the acts of this person who was admittedly mentally ill at this time.” Weinstein replied, “You have a good point, that he was trying to gain control of the plane by banging on the door; and therefore, he was trying to do his job and not on his own spree.” The judge ordered discovery and said summary judgment motions would follow in Euler v. JetBlue Airways, 12-cv-4140. During the proceedings, the judge also took on several other pending cases arising from the incident.