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Sleeping Passenger Sues United Airlines

By now, many have heard about last week’s incident involving a female airplane passenger who fell asleep during her flight and was later found locked inside the plane for approximate four hours.  Some people may be asking, “Is this just another example of a frivolous lawsuit, or does this woman have a legitimate case?” The court will have to come to its conclusion based on the evidence available including McGuire’s own story.

Michigan resident Ginger McGuire, 36, is suing United Airlines and its partner Trans State Airlines for false imprisonment after finding herself locked in a plane that had landed in Philadelphia four hours earlier.  McGuire claims that she fell asleep during the 1-hour-long flight and that the flight crew never woke her up when the plane landed shortly after midnight.

When McGuire finally awoke, she was alone in the 50-seat plane and says that she walked up and down the aisles for fifteen minutes and that all the doors were locked.  Federal officers say that McGuire remained locked in the plane until they were convinced that she was not associated with any terrorist activity.  According to a report by MSNBC.com, a member of the cleaning crew allegedly found McGuire at around 4 am and locked her back in the plane instead of helping her off. 

Minutes later, two Philadelphia police officers and a Transportation Security Administrations officer opened the doors to question her for ten minutes.  McGuire, who was entirely unaware that she was being detained for questioning, told WDIV-TV, “Waking up to an empty airplane and not being able to get out was very horrifying.”

McGuire is now suing for false imprisonment, breach of conduct, emotional distress, and negligence.  Two days after the incident she consulted her attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, who stated that “to leave her there and lock her in a plane is beyond unacceptable, beyond a gross abuse.”  United Airlines is currently investigating why the plane was not immediately cleared upon landing and why McGuire was left unattended.  The regional carrier, which operates under United Express, has yet to release a statement.

In order for McGuire to win this lawsuit against United, she must prove to the court that she was a victim of false imprisonment.  False imprisonment occurs when a person is unlawfully held in custody or confined against his or her will, and it can be filed as either a civil or criminal claim, or possibly both. (McGuire’s lawsuit is a civil suit).  For this particular case, McGuire must provide evidence that United Airlines’ staff purposely confined her within the plane and that there was no reasonable way for her to escape.  She also needs to prove that she was fully aware of her situation at the time and that the confinement caused harm (physical and/or emotional) to her as a direct result.

It is possible for attorney Geoffrey Fieger to argue that although his client was asleep and not originally aware of the confinement which lasted approximately four hours, she was still held against her will and without legal authority.  Even if McGuire had been awake, she would have had no way to escape from the plane because its doors remained locked for over three hours. 

McGuire is also suing for breach of conduct, which happens when a company strays from its code of duty.  Her complaint is that United and Trans State Airlines were responsible for making sure that all passengers left the plane safely and immediately after it landed.  According to documents filed with the Wayne County Circuit Court, McGuire alleges that the flight crew’s failure to account for its passengers led directly to her being locked back inside the plane when she awoke.  McGuire also claims that because of improper procedure, she experienced emotional distress and was furthermore “wrongfully detained and interrogated” as a possible terrorist, even though she was later found to simply be an innocent passenger.

It will now be up to the court to decide whether the plaintiff, Ginger McGuire has a genuine case for negligence and false imprisonment.  If Ginger McGuire is found to have suffered significant injury, and proves that United Airlines breached its code of conduct, she could be awarded between $25,000 to $75,000—.the exact amount she is asking for has yet to be disclosed.

As an aside, if the attorney’s name Geoffrey Fieger seems familiar, he was the defense attorney for Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

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