United Sued for Failing to Protect Teen Who Was Assaulted Mid-Flight

Jan 25, 2019

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In a new lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court, United Airlines has been accused of doing too little to protect a teen who was sexually assaulted by a fellow passenger in 2017.

Vijaykumar Krishnappa pled guilty to the charge in 2018, and was sentenced to 90 days in federal prison. However, the airline is now being held responsible as well for its lukewarm response.

The unnamed teenager was flying solo from Seattle to Newark on July 23, 2017, when Krishnappa began molesting her. According to the victim, the unwanted touching continued until she managed to flag down a flight attendant for help. The flight attendant allegedly said, “Not cool, dude” and directed the victim to a seat several rows forward. The lawsuit also alleges that United Airlines allowed Krishnappa to leave the plane without further consequences; he was only taken into custody after the victim’s mother called local law enforcement.

Cases of mid-air sexual assault are increasing at “an alarming rate,” according to the FBI in June 2018, spiking 66% from 2014 to 2017. In 2017, the bureau opened 63 in-flight sexual assault cases, compared to just 38 in 2014. Because the assaults take place in flight, cases are considered federal crimes and can carry felony penalties of 10 years to life in prison, if aggravated.

In many cases, assault is most likely to occur on long-haul or red-eye flights, when the cabin lights are dimmed for a portion of the time. Furthermore, victimized travelers are at the mercy of the flight crew’s intuition for managing the situation, as airlines and law enforcement do not currently have a set of guidelines for managing and reporting sexual assault.

United released a statement saying, “The safety and well-being of our customers is our top priority. Our customer was immediately moved to a different seat when the flight attendant was made aware of the issue. We fully cooperated with law enforcement’s investigation and the perpetrator has been permanently banned from flying United.”

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