ATLANTA — A man mauled by another passenger's emotional support dog on a Delta Air Lines flight has sued the airline and the other passenger for negligence.
The lawsuit filed in Fulton County state court alleges Marlin Jackson was in a window seat when a dog sitting in the lap of the passenger next to him suddenly attacked his face and pinned him against the window of the plane.
The June 2017 attack during boarding of a flight from Atlanta to San Diego gained national attention and was followed by a series of changes to airline policies for emotional support and service animals. The federal government is also reviewing its policies for emotional support and service animals on flights.
“While Mr. Jackson was securing his seatbelt, the animal began to growl” at him, according to the lawsuit. The dog then bit Jackson several times.
“The attack was briefly interrupted when the animal was pulled away from Mr. Jackson. However, the animal broke free and again mauled Mr. Jackson’s face,” the lawsuit alleges.
Jackson, who lives in Alabama, "bled so profusely that the entire row of seats had to be removed from the airplane," according to the complaint. He suffered lacerations and punctures to his face and upper body requiring 28 stitches and medical treatment, it says. The lawsuit also alleges Jackson suffered permanent injury and loss of sensation in areas of his face, "severe physical pain and suffering," emotional distress and mental anguish, loss of income or earning potential, and substantial medical bills. "His entire lifestyle has been severely impaired by this attack," the litigation states.
Delta, the suit alleges, “took no action to verify or document the behavioral training of the large animal,” such as requiring signed documentation showing the animal is trained and can behave in the airplane setting. “Such measures were feasible at the time but were not in effect until after this attack,” according to the complaint.
Delta said it does not comment on pending litigation.
After the attack, Delta tightened restrictions on emotional support animals by requiring a "confirmation of animal training" form and other documents. It also banned pit bulls as service or support animals.
The lawsuit says Delta was required to exercise ordinary care and “owed Mr. Jackson an even greater obligation ‘to exercise extraordinary diligence’” to protect its passengers.
“The harm of large, untrained and unrestrained animals in the cabin of an airplane was reasonably foreseeable to Delta, or should have been,” the suit alleges. And Delta “knew or should have known that subjecting passengers and animals to close physical interaction in the confined, cramped and anxious quarters of the cabin, presented a reasonably foreseeable harm.”
The police report listed the dog's owner, Ronald Kevin Mundy Jr. of Mills River, N.C., as a military service member with the U.S. Marine Corps who "advised that the dog was issued to him for support." The dog is listed in the police report as a "chocolate lab pointer mix."
According to the lawsuit, Mundy, seated in the middle seat of Row 31, held his dog on his lap. “The animal was so large it encroached into the aisle seat and window seat,” the complaint says.
The suit alleges Delta was negligent by allowing a passenger on board with a large dog without any verification of training or proper restraints to protect others, and not warning others of the dangers of unsecured animals on its plane so they could protect themselves. It also alleges Delta failed to require a kennel for the dog or failed to verify that the dog as an emotional support animal was trained and met the same requirements as a service animal.
The suit also alleges that Mundy “knew or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that his large animal was foreseeably dangerous, especially when confined to the cramped and anxious quarters of the passenger cabin of an airplane.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called and sent messages to Mundy and his family members but had not yet reached him for comment by Tuesday evening.
The suit seeks damages for pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses and emotional pain, suffering and mental anguish.
Cox Media Group