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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed a $1.4 million judgment awarded a woman whose husband died from exposure to secondhand smoke during a transatlantic flight. A three-judge panel upheld U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California because he did not clearly err when ruling that Dr. Abid Hanson’s death by asphyxiation was caused, in part, by Olympic Airways’ failure to heed his request for a new seat because on-board smoke was affecting his health. “Whether Dr. Hanson’s death was caused by a reaction to second-hand smoke resulting from [a flight attendant's] failure to assist or by a reaction to food allergies may appear to be a close call. However, the district court, as the trier of fact, was in the best position to determine which of two plausible explanations was correct. The district court’s determination here is plausible in light of the record before the district court, thus is not clearly erroneous, and will not be disturbed on appeal,” wrote Montana U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, sitting by designation. Hanson, who suffered from asthma, died on the way home from a family vacation to Greece and Egypt. Without realizing Olympic allowed smoking on transatlantic flights, Hanson managed to make the trip to Europe without trouble. On the flight home, Hanson sat three rows in front of the smoking section and began to experience difficulty breathing. His wife, Rubina Husain, repeatedly asked a flight attendant to find a new seat for her ailing husband, but was told the flight was too full. She was advised to ask passengers herself whether they would trade seats. Breyer found the flight attendant’s actions “a blatant disregard of industry standards and airline policies.” For religious reasons, no autopsy was ever performed. Olympic argued that the cause of death could have been an allergic reaction to food, something Hanson had experienced before. The airline also argued that there was no evidence that moving Hanson would have prevented his death. “Olympic’s argument asks this court to substitute its judgment and second guess the district court,” Molloy wrote. “This we cannot do.”

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