JetBlue Asks Court To Throw Out Lawsuit Over Misplaced 5-Year-Old

More than three months after losing track of an unaccompanied minor and sending him to an airport in an entirely different city than his intended destination, JetBlue is arguing that an international treaty prohibits the mother from bringing a lawsuit against the airline.

Back in mid-August, the youngster was supposed to fly from the Dominican Republic to JFK International Airport in New York City. He was traveling alone, but his family had booked the flight through JetBlue’s unaccompanied minor program, meaning that airline staffers were responsible for making sure he arrived safely.

He did arrive in one piece, but in the wrong city.

Rather than arrive at JFK, he was sent to Logan International in Boston. Meanwhile, his mother had to endure more than three hours of waiting — and a false alarm that the airline had found her son at JFK — before learning that her boy had inexplicably been routed to New England instead of New York.

The mom filed suit in late September in a New York state court, accusing JetBlue of negligent supervision of a minor child, negligent hiring and supervision of employees.

That case was subsequently removed to a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, and now the NY Daily News reports that JetBlue is making its argument to the judge today that the entire matter should be thrown out.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the airline filed paperwork [PDF] previewing its case for dismissal, saying that this matter is protected by an international treaty known as the Montreal Convention, which applies to “all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed by aircraft for reward.” In other words, pretty much all international flights.

The airline contends that Article 17 of the Convention restricts damages to those related to personal injury or death, while Article 29 establishes that the treaty preempts other legal challenges, and that affected passengers can not seek punitive damages — only actual damages.

“The Convention’s preemptive effect on local law extends to all causes of action for injuries to persons… suffered in the course of international airline transportation,” quotes the airline from previous court rulings on the issue. “Thus, even when a passenger cannot establish a cause of action under the treaty, they are prohibited from circumventing its restrictions by bringing a suit under local law.”

Thus, because the child was flying internationally on JetBlue, the airline maintains that the Montreal Convention applies and the mother’s lawsuit should be dismissed.

In response [PDF], the plaintiff’s attorney contends first that the Montreal Convention doesn’t apply to the mother because she wasn’t a passenger on an international flight, but a worrying mother waiting at the airport for her son to arrive. Second, her attorney argues that the treaty doesn’t apply as the alleged negligence didn’t occur during the flight “or even arguably during the embarkation process.”

Instead, argues the response, these allegedly reckless acts occurred “prior to the placement of the infant plaintiff” on the JetBlue flight.

The mother’s attorney also tells the Daily News that her request for a Department of Transportation investigation has been passed on to the airline as a request for an internal investigation.

“Not only is JetBlue able to investigate itself, but it is also moving to dismiss this case now, so that its employees will not be required to testify under oath as to how a young boy flying along in JetBlue’s custody can be flown to the wrong city and avoid a jury from hearing exactly what occurred during a trial and deciding appropriate damages,” said the lawyer.