A husband and wife are suing United Airlines for "negligently" overserving alcohol during a flight from Osaka, Japan, to San Francisco, stating the carrier's drinks fueled domestic violence involving the couple shortly after their plane landed.
At issue is whether laws that hold bars and restaurants responsible for harm caused by intoxicated patrons apply when the bartender and drinker are mid-flight, across international territory.
Shimamoto was arrested, accused of disorderly conduct and battery after he struck his wife, Ayisha, six times, injuring her face and upper lip as they were heading through U.S. Customs in San Francisco.
Yoichi Shimamoto alleges being supplied wine at 20-minute intervals by United crew members during the couple's December 2006 trip to the point where he could no longer mamage himself.
"United's first defense will be there's no tort action like this in international airspace," said James Speta, professor at Northwestern University Law School.
Under the Dram Shop Act, which is in place in California, Florida and most states, commercial suppliers of alcohol may be held liable for injuries caused by intoxicated patrons, such as those Ayisha Shimamoto suffered. The threat of such lawsuits has prompted many bars to adopt a policy of not serving anyone who is visibly impaired.
According to legal experts, Ayisha Shimamoto's claim that she was harmed as a result of the carrier's negligence -one element of the couple's complaint - would be a likely slam-dunk if United's conduct in question had taken place in a bar. But, because United's alleged over-serving occurred on an airplane crossing the Pacific Ocean, a legal no-man's land, it may be subject to protocols spelled out under the Warsaw Convention, said Bruce Ottley, professor at DePaul College of Law.
Source: The Chicago Tribune