JetBlue Sued for $14.9 Million by Former Pilot Who Suffered From Mental Breakdown During Flight
A former pilot of JetBlue Airways sued the carrier for $14.9 million, alleging that the airline should have grounded him because he was incapable of piloting an aircraft on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 when — as a result of erratic behavior which supposedly including the word “bomb” in his shouting and ranting exactly three years ago today — Clayton Osbon was removed from the cockpit of the aircraft on which he was the captain by his co-pilot and another captain traveling while off duty.
Osbon was reportedly subdued by passengers on the floor in the aisle when he allegedly attempted to storm the cockpit door to regain access to the cockpit on the aircraft which operated as JetBlue Airways flight 191. The flight originated at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on that spring morning with Las Vegas as its destination; but the aircraft was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, where Osbon was removed from the aircraft in a stretcher and brought to an ambulance after suffering what was reported as a mental breakdown.
Andreas Lubitz and the Crash of Germanwings
Oddly enough, news of this lawsuit occurred three days after Andreas Lubitz allegedly intentionally destroyed the Airbus A320-200 aircraft as a co-pilot operating as Germanwings flight 4U-9525 — which was carrying 144 passengers and six members of the flight crew from Barcelona to Dusseldorf but crashed in a mountainous area of southern France at approximately 11:20 in the morning two days ago, leaving no survivors — by purposely initiating a descent which lasted for eight minutes before the airplane crashed in the French Alps and disintegrated into hundreds of small pieces.
Lubitz reportedly suffered from mental illness, according to this article written by Melissa Eddy, Dan Bilefsky and Nicola Clark of The New York Times; but he supposedly did not disclose his full medical record to Germanwings and its parent company, Lufthansa, whose company policy requires notification of conditions that could affect flying or a pilot’s license.
“So here it is”, Steve Case — who is a reader of The Gate — said in this comment pertaining to Andreas Lubitz. “The world’s fastest air crash investigation which points to the IMSAFE model in my previous comment. The copilot had a doctor’s excuse to be off that day and he still flew. Without the missing FDR, we still know exactly what happened and more important, all of the pieces fit neatly together. Had LH had a policy of an f/a in the cockpit, I may not be writing this comment.”
As a result of the crash, airlines around the world have rushed to re-evaluate and revise cockpit rules, according to this article written by Joe Cortez of FlyerTalk: “…the aviation industry is working quickly to ensure similar tragedies never happens again. In the days following the crash, multiple airlines and national aviation authorities have mandated a two-person cockpit rule, which requires either both pilots, or one pilot and one senior cabin crew member, to be on the flight deck at all times.”
Meanwhile — according to this article written by Jonathan Stempel of Reuters — the aforementioned lawsuit accuses JetBlue Airways of negligence and breach of contract. Of the $14.9 million sought by Osbon, $4.85 million is for compensatory damages; $4.85 million is for punitive damages; a combined $4.85 million is for reputational damage and emotional distress; and other sums comprise of the rest of the total amount…
…and New York has a three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims; which means that this lawsuit — known as Osbon v. JetBlue Airways Corporation, United States District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-02306 — just squeaks in under the deadline as eligible.
This is the latest in a series of airline personnel who suffered mental breakdowns or emotional outbursts in front of passengers aboard aircraft. This story is eerily similar to that earlier in March of 2012 of an American Airlines flight attendant who was removed from an airplane after causing an outburst by shouting to passengers via the public address system before the take-off of a flight that the aircraft was going to crash, as well as ranting about American Airlines currently undergoing bankruptcy reorganization. Reports indicate that she did not take her medication before serving as a flight attendant on American Airlines flight 2332 from Dallas/Fort Worth to Chicago. The flight attendant was removed from the aircraft as well.
This is not the first incident of erratic behavior of jetBlue personnel, as evidenced by the now-famous story of Steven Slater back in August of 2010 when he launched a profanity-laced tirade over the public address system of the aircraft and deployed an emergency slide on which he exited the aircraft at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and quit his job as a flight attendant.
I cannot imagine that Osbon will successfully win in his legal action against JetBlue Airways; but if he did, that could potentially send shock waves throughout commercial aviation around the world. It could also lead to significantly more restrictive policies for pilots by their employers.
Questions Which Need to Be Answered
More important than a lawsuit is finding answers to the following questions:
- What are the reasons behind this spate of erratic behavior by airline professionals aboard aircraft over the past few years?
- Are the incidents merely coincidental, or has the stress of flight attendants and pilots increased significantly enough to cause these public rants, outbursts and breakdowns?
- How can these incidents be prevented from happening in the future?
- Should flight attendants and pilots be required to undergo ongoing routine scheduled mental and physical evaluations which are more stringent than the policies of commercial airlines currently require?
“But what about the underlying factors?” Steve Case asked in this comment pertaining to Andreas Lubitz. “How will airlines and regulators deal with mental illness detection? Let’s hope a lot of positive changes come from this disaster so it doesn’t happen again.”
Amen, Steve Case.
You really do not want the person in the photograph at the top of this article to ever be the co-pilot of an airplane on which you are a passenger. Trust me on that one…