“Jeremiah Thede is ‘glad he will have his day in court against United Airlines,’ said his lawyer, Mike Danko. ‘He feels that everyone needs to know about what United did to him, because it could happen to anyone.’”
Jemiah Thede boarded a United flight from Rome to his home in Oakland. He was hungry and asked for crackers. The flight attendant didn’t react well to Thede’s request. Words were exchanged. Thede asked the flight attendant for her name so he could report her to United’s management. She refused to give it him. Eventually, another flight attendant brought Thede some crackers. Thede ate the crackers, sat down, and fell asleep.
Thede was roused by the police when the plane landed. But the plane hadn’t landed in San Francisco. Rather, it was in Belfast, Ireland. The flight attendant wanted to see Thede removed from the flight, so she convinced the captain that Thede was a threat and that the plane needed to be diverted and landed before reaching the US.
Unfortunately for the passengers, the landing meant that everyone aboard had to stay overnight in Belfast, or else the crew would exceed their permissible duty times.
The passengers were angry. Now on the hot seat, the flight attendant filed a report with the Belfast law enforcement that falsely stated that Thede was threatening the aircraft.
Belfast authorities detained him for 10 months before bringing him to trial for criminally “endangering a flight.” United brought its flight attendants to Belfast to testify against Thede. The lead flight attendant’s story was contradicted by the other flight attendants. The evidence in the criminal trial showed that Thede had no physical altercation with anyone, nor did he threaten the aircraft or anyone on it.
The Belfast jury deliberated and quickly acquitted Thede, and he was finally allowed to return home.
We took Thede’s case, suing United for malicious prosecution. But a federal judge in Oakland threw the case out, ruling that United was immune from liability under the Montreal Convention, an international treaty governing the liability of airlines for injuries occurring on international flights.
We appealed. The federal court of appeal for the ninth circuit reversed the trial judge and reinstated Thede’s case, agreeing with us that because the flight attendant’s false testimony did not happen during Thede’s flight, but rather 10 months after the flight landed, the Montreal Convention did not apply.
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