Last updated: 10:15 AM ET, Fri July 17 2015

Airline Employees Who Misinterpret Bomb Threats No Longer Held Liable

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | July 17, 2015

Airline Employees Who Misinterpret Bomb Threats No Longer Held Liable

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The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Thursday made a critical ruling regarding interpretation of speech, a ruling that favors airline employees.

A three-judge panel said airline workers cannot be held liable if they misinterpret a passenger’s remarks or references to a bomb and report it to security, even if it turns out to be false, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling stemmed from a $50 million lawsuit brought by businesswoman Rosalinda Baez, who was trying to fly from New York to Austin, Tx., last year and missed the flight when the gate agent shut the doors. Baez then asked about her luggage, which the gate agent told her was already on the plane and going to Austin.

According to the AP story, Baez then said, “Isn’t it a security risk to let a bag go on a plane without a passenger, what if there was a bomb in the bag?” The JetBlue gate agent later changed her testimony and said Baez actually said, “I have a bomb in my bag so you should turn the plane around.”

The flight was re-routed to Richmond, Va. No bomb was found but the TSA detained Baez. Charges of making a bomb threat were later dismissed during a plea bargain after she admitted she had marijuana in her checked luggage and was ordered to repay JetBlue $13,448 for the cost of re-routing the flight.

Baez lost her $190,000 a year job as a result.

Judge Dennis Jacobs, who wrote the opinion in the ruling, said that as long as the employees’ statements regarding references to a bomb are not “materially false,” the employees have no liability in what is obviously a touchy, sensitive issue.

“At an airport, a bare reference to a bomb may be enough to set off the chain of events that resulted in Baez’s detention, interrogation, and arrest by the FBI,” Jacobs wrote. “A gate agent or airline manager may not confidently distinguish between a veiled threat and a comment expressing genuine concerns about security.”

An attorney for Baez said they will appeal to the Supreme Court. 


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