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03/22/2005 Archived Entry: "Another reason NOT to fly..."

Another reason NOT to fly...A disturbing story. FOX News reports, "Prosecutors are investigating the death of a man who was subdued by several fellow airline passengers after he became disruptive on a New York-bound flight, a spokesman said Sunday." More details...

According to the Independent (UK), Mr Lee, 48, stood up in his seat during Friday's flight from Los Angeles and "loudly demanded another beer," a spokesman for American Airlines said. Flight attendants asked him to wait until they reached his row, but the man "got very, very belligerent and loud and disruptive and was told he would not be served any more alcohol". One of the cabin staff tried to calm him, but he pushed her aside to try to reach the aisle, the spokesman said. Seven male passengers restrained Mr Lee, described as a very large man, and they and the flight crew put flexible handcuffs on him and put him back in his seat.

In the several reports I've read, there is no mention of the man uttering threats, causing harm to person or property, heading toward the cockpit, or possessing a weapon. Yet he is dead with a strong presumption that his abuse on the plane was a contributing factor or a direct cause of his death.

Much of being made of his alcohol consumption. But the flight was a 5-hour one from L.A. to N.Y. and, as American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith stated, "He'd had a couple of beers and a vodka during the five-hour flight, which is not an issue."

One account speculated that the man may have died of a seizure. If so, was he in need of medical assistance and not being difficult when he convulsed on the cabin floor with seven men - allegedly part of a rugby team from Australia or New Zealand - pinning him down?

Questions: if the man's death is found to have resulted from his treatment at the hands of the seven men who held him down, then are they guilty of manslaughter? Or do fellow-passengers have the right to assault each other up to and including the point of death with impunity? What is the legal position of American Airlines? If AA is legally liable for allowing the manslaughter of a passenger without interfering - indeed, apparently with co-operation from its crew, then what becomes of current security policies? That is, will the zero-tolerance, "we can do what we want to you" policies be dramatically altered due to a fear of lawsuits, especially for wrongful death?

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