A passenger boarded a United flight from Rome to San Francisco. He asked for food. The flight attendant refused. The two exchanged words. Eventually, another flight attendant heard the argument and brought the passenger some crackers. The passenger ate the crackers, took his seat, and went to sleep.
While the passenger slept, the flight attendant convinced the pilot to land the plane. The pilot diverted to Belfast. On landing, the flight attendant reported to the local police that the passenger threatened the safety of the flight. The report was false. Nonetheless, the Belfast police detained the passenger for ten months. They locked him up with convicted murders and other violent criminals before putting him on trial for “endangering the safety of a flight.”
United sent its crew to testify against the passenger. The jury determined that the flight attendant’s testimony was false and quickly acquitted the passenger who was, at long last, permitted to return home.
We brought a malicious prosecution lawsuit against United on the passenger’s behalf. A federal judge Oakland dismissed the suit, agreeing with United that the Montreal Convention — the international treaty governing airline’s liability for injuries occurring on international flights – immunized United from any liability. We appealed. We argued that the Montreal Convention addresses only an airline’s liability for conduct occurring during the flight itself. The flight attendant’s false testimony that lead to the malicious prosecution action occurred 10 months after the flight had landed.
The federal court of appeal for the ninth circuit agreed, reversed the trial judge’s ruling and reinstated the passenger’s case.
Read the Appellate Court opinion.