Woman Sues Spirit Airlines In Small Claims Court And Wins

If you sue a company in small claims court and they don’t bother to show up to defend themselves… you win. That’s what happened to one Michigan woman who sued Spirit Airlines after they stranded her at the Detroit Metro airport and then refused to rebook her canceled flights. From USAToday:

Jane Waun sued Spirit Airlines in the small claims division of 54B District Court in East Lansing, Mich., as a last resort this spring after trying unsuccessfully to resolve her beef with the airline directly.

She won her case last Monday mainly because Spirit never showed up for the original hearing and didn’t have a good excuse. But the judgment reimburses her hotel and meal costs, a lost night at her destination and the four tickets she had to purchase on a different airline.

Will other passengers fed up with airline bad behavior now haul them off to small claims court, too?
“I’d encourage them to give it a shot,” says aviation attorney Don Frank of Okemos. Even if you don’t win, “it can be cathartic.”

In Waun’s case, Spirit Airlines likely will pay the judgment “and move forward,” says spokeswoman Alison Russell.

Still, Waun, 55, who never sued anyone before, likely won’t get the one thing she really wants — an apology.

“If Spirit just would have admitted their error and apologized,” she says, “I would have flown them again.”

Waun won $1,350.75 from the airline. She won a default judgment after Spirit failed to show up in court. The airline filed a motion for rehearing, but it was too late. Waun had won.

Passenger wins damages from Spirit for canceled flight [USAToday]

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  1. Blueskylaw says:

    They don’t show up then have the nerve to try and waste more of this womans time and money by trying to get a rehearing. Good for her, I should have sued after my fiasco trip earlier this year.

  2. Felix the Cat says:

    Good for her! I have sued in small claims court 3 times and won each time. Not every state has ‘small claims courts’, Ga. for instance does not you have to file in the County Superior Court, and some states have rather high costs to file which discourages you from filing a $100 case when it costs $175 just to file the thing.

  3. kimsama says:

    Small claims is excellent for this kind of thing. Often, big companies will not show up and you’ll win by default.

  4. beyond says:

    Good for her, but suing and winning is only half the battle. Now she’s got to collect.

  5. Murph1908 says:

    Don’t many companies you do business with have it in their War-and-Peace-like terms that if you sue them, it has to be in a certain state? This could prevent this from being a common tactic.

  6. FatLynn says:

    I can’t tell from the post here if she has a legitimate case or not. Just remember, if everyone starts running off to court every time they get delayed, prices WILL go up.

  7. j-o-h-n says:

    @beyond: See here [consumerist.com] for how to collect with style!

  8. bmcgann says:

    As someone else mentioned, collecting is the big hassle. It’s easy to win a small claims court case because most of the time the other person won’t show up (or in this case, the other company). I opened a case in small claims against an individual, they didn’t show up, I “won”, then it was my responsibility to collect. The person, not surprisingly, ignored all my phone calls, etc. Then, they re-opened the case, claiming they never received the notification about the original case to begin with, despite the fact it was sent certified mail. Judge ruled in their favor and I got nothing. I’d never go to small claims again, especially if pursuing something against a company. The Better Business Bureau is much easier and much more effective.

  9. nightshadowon says:

    Yea for the little guy (or gal in this case)!

    @Murph1908: Those terms are starting to be looked at. Terms in contracts that are pro-Arbitration and anti-Class Action are starting to show up in State courts and being examined. You can’t throw all your rights away just becase a company says so.

  10. Geekybiker says:

    Sounds like she got stuck in a connection city and Spirit wouldnt fly her out again. Aren’t airlines legally obligated to get you booked out, even if its on another airline?

  11. slowinthefastlane says:

    A few years back, Spirit decided that they weren’t going to service the San Francisco bay area anymore. That’s fine, but they decided to do so two days before Thanksgiving and to cancel all flights they had previously ticketed! I had purchased my tickets three months in advance in order to ensure that I would have a flight home to Michigan see my family and to take advantage of lower fares.

    When I got the notice that my flight had been canceled, I called their customer service center. The best they could do was get me a flight from L.A. to Michigan two days earlier than my current ticket, but since they were no longer flying out of SF, I would be on my own to get to LA. The folks in the Spirit customer service didn’t seem to realize that SF is almost 400 miles away from L.A. I opted for the refund, since I couldn’t get to LA in time for the fight.

    The final kick in the crotch was that because I had paper tickets (there was no e-ticket option available when I purchased the ticket), they could not simply credit my charge card with refund amount. I had to mail in the paper tickets, and they would cut me a check. Since I was just out of college and short on funds, this left me without enough money to pay for a new ticket (which were now going for 3x what I had paid).

    The refund check finally came almost 3 months later. Since I had used registered mail to send in the tickets, I know that they had received them 3 days after I had mailed them. They just didn’t feel any urgency in refunding the money.

    Suffice to say that eventhough Spirit has resumed seasonal flights to SF, I will not fly them. They are not going to get any of my money. It was bad enough that they were heartless to discontinue service just before thanksgiving without any alternatives, but to not refund the money in a timely fashion is inexcusable.

  12. Major-General says:

    @bmcgann: Next time, registered mail. Certified means the postman returns a card when he dropped it off. Registered menas they had to go to the post office, show ID, and sign for it personally.

  13. belch says:

    @Geekybiker: There is no federal law that I know of saying they are obligated to get you where you are going, (someone correct me) but if you read the airline’s individual contract of carriage, there might be something in there you can force them to comply with since that is a legal agreement between you and them. But in all reality they could probably get away with refunding your money and saying “Well we couldn’t complete our agreement to get you to ___, so here’s your money back, have a nice life.”

  14. Skeptic says:

    @bmcgann: Next time, registered mail. Certified means the postman returns a card when he dropped it off. Registered menas they had to go to the post office, show ID, and sign for it personally.

    Certified mail requires a signature to received it. You can specify that only the addressee may sign. With certified mail the proof of receipt is kept at the post office in the location where the mail was delivered. For an additional fee, you can request a return receipt.

    Certified mail is the standard delivery method for proof of service by mail.

    Registered mail could work, though it is really meant for sending valuable items.

    In either case, the recipient may simply refuse delivery.

    I’ve always found both to be silly forms of service since the “proof” only proves that you sent an envelope, and proves nothing about what was in it. With a process server, you get an a sword affidavit that they served a particular document to the individual.

  15. brennie says:

    Here’s a couple of other small claims tips.

    1)Don’t sue the company, cause then they can send anyone as a rep. Find out who the principal is and sue them directly. Only they can show up.

    2)Find out where that person’s office is and sue in the courthouse as far from it as possible in the same county. Just to make it harder.

    3) forget mailing the summons. spring for a process server. Believe me, when the company principal gets served personally in his own office, you will get attention.

    I got this advice years ago from a non profit legal help hotline. Needless to say, I won.

  16. jendomme says:

    Now she should record this judgement with the County Recorders Office (or similar gov’t dept.). This will allow her to place a lien against property owned by spirit.

  17. mrrbob says:

    @bmcgann: If you do go to small claims court just pay the extra to have the other party served. Let them then try to deny receiving the notice.

  18. crosstowers says:

    I desperately need help fighting back Spirit Airlines. I purchase tickets on line for my visiting kids; they hit my cc, I don’t have tickets and it’s impossible to contact them and get my money back. What are my choices?

  19. farevans says:

    I boarded Spirit airline with my 4 year old grandson on June 28, 2008. He got real scared and would nor stop crying. Subsequently, I was told that we would have to get off the plane if I could not calm him down. We got off, I called his dad to come to the airport to get him. I then bought a ticket on another airline and continued on my vacation. I got back after ten days and have been trying to talk to someone to refund his portion of the ticket or provide a voucher for future travel. I get the run around, no-one wants to deal with it. Response to an email indicated that the relevant person would contact me, to date no contact. Total cost was $982.54, I used only the return leg of my ticket. Smal claims court seem like the only way I am going to get some attention or my money back.

  20. Anonymous says:

    A few weeks ago I put up a couple of tickets on reservation, but what I don’t understand is why they automatically signed me in to the $9.00 club membership when I wasn’t interested on. I never checked the box to be a club member and wasn’t interested on any of there discounts anyway. Right now I’am having trouble trying to cancel this membership that I never checked in for. I call the spirit customer service to see if I could do the cancelation over the phone but unfortunatelly they said that I have to do it through the Member ship login options that they have e-mail me with a password or what ever it is. Right now the password that they have sent me don’t even work to log in and the worst thing of all is that I just received an e-mail saying that they are going to charge my account with a $39.95 membership renewal fee. This piece of crap airline (spirit) don’t have an e-mail or phone that we could just cancel this membership RACKET that is going on here. I know that there is more people out there that this has happened to. Let it be heard. They could keep the $9.00 that they have robbed me of but not $39.00 more, what kind of a joke is this. SHAME ON YOU (SPIRIT AIR LINES) This really makes my life misserable. I’ll tell you there is know way of getting out of this. Don’t know if I could go to small claims court or not. If I end up cancelling my tickets I probably would.