When it comes to accounts of misbehaving TSA and/or airline employees, it seems like there are new stories almost every week. But to be fair, that’s mostly because there are. Sound like a far-fetched exaggeration, you say? Well, prepare to be proven wrong.
A gay couple has just filed a lawsuit against Continental Airlines. Seems pretty par for the course, right? Yeah, it is considering that airlines and lawsuits seem to go together better than washed-up celebrities and “Dancing with the Stars” these days. Except that in this case, the couple is suing Continental because they allege the company’s employees taped a sex toy to the outside of their luggage.
That’s right, not so ho-hum, huh? Christopher Bridgemann and Martin Borger were on a flight from Costa Rica to Houston back in May. They checked in their bags, but when they went to retrieve them after landing, the couple saw that a sex toy was taped to their bag and spinning around the luggage carousel for everyone to see. Apparently, a Continental employee(s) had opened the couple’s baggage for inspection, found their toy and decided that instead of putting it back it’d be better to display it publicly. And to add insult to injury, the couple alleges that their toy was also covered in an unknown “greasy foul-smelling substance” that wasn’t on it before it was packed.
Bridgemann and Borger were allegedly so shocked and embarrassed over the incident that they had to call friends to help them. Luckily, their friends came and brought the couple home away from the airport.
But by now, you guys know that this isn’t the end of the tale. Bridgemann and Borger have sued the airline for intentional infliction of emotional distress due to the severe mental trauma they suffered as a result of the event. Though the surprising part about this is that they might actually win their case.
Loyal Law Blog readers and legal aficionados know that there are two types of emotional distress actions, those stemming from negligence and those stemming from intentional or reckless acts. And traditionally, the former is much easier to prove than the latter. The reason is because negligent infliction of emotional distress is generally tied to some physical damage. For instance, getting hit in the face with a bat would usually entitle a person to emotional distress damages because the mental injury is incidental to the physical one. It makes sense from a logical perspective since it’s safe to assume that one would normally suffer emotional trauma following a physical injury.
The problem with intentional infliction of emotional distress is that there generally isn’t any initial physical harm; rather, as in Bridgemann and Borger’s case, the plaintiff claims their injury stems entirely from their emotional trauma. To win, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was intentional or reckless and that it was so outrageous that it caused the plaintiff emotional harm.
So how do you measure outrageousness? Courts and juries are required to look at a societal standard, as in what society would consider extreme unacceptable behavior. Yelling and cursing a person out normally isn’t enough.
Fortunately for Bridgemann and Borger (and unfortunately for Continental), strapping a personal sex toy outside of a person’s luggage would likely be considered sufficiently outrageous. Sex toys are, by their nature, private items and their use is usually something that isn’t publicly disclosed. That’s why they’re shipped in unmarked packages and hidden carefully in most homes.
The couple’s biggest hurdle in proving their case would be establishing that it was an actual Continental employee that did the deed. But considering that federal guidelines only allow official airport personnel to handle people’s luggage, it’s safe to assume that this obstacle won’t be all that difficult to overcome either.
All signs point to a big juicy settlement for the couple. And all it cost them was their dignity and privacy.
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