Lawsuit: United Airlines failed to protect teen on Seattle flight
A lawsuit filed last week accused United Airlines of failing to protect a 16-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted on a July 2017 flight from Seattle to Newark, New Jersey.
Vijaykumar Krishnappa, 29, was sentenced to 90 days at a federal court in New Jersey earlier this month.
But the complaint filed in King County Superior Court says that United failed to take appropriate action when the victim called for help, even letting Krishnappa walk off the flight afterward, prompting the girl's mother to call law enforcement so he could be arrested the next day.
"The conduct of United in this case is unconscionable from start to finish," said attorney Samuel Daheim, who, with Julie Kays, represents the victim and her mother in the case.
For its part, United issued a public statement indicating it cooperated with the criminal investigation and let the victim change seats.
The assault occurred July 23, 2017. The victim, from the Federal Way area, was about to fly alone for the first time to head for a young women's leadership conference at Princeton University, according to the lawsuit.
The girl was assigned a seat toward the back of the aircraft and the cabin lights were switched off as the crew prepared for takeoff. The teen expected to sleep throughout the flight.
However, the passenger next to her, later identified as a doctor from India working in the United States as part of a fellowship, began to touch her knee with his fingertips. The teen thought he was asleep and didn't think the touching was intentional, court documents say.
However, the touching escalated to his hand on her knee, then on her upper thigh and on her genitalia over her leggings.
The girl felt "trapped and afraid" in the dark cabin and thought Krishnappa might do something worse if she drew attention. But when he slid his hand beneath the waistband of her pants, she confronted him and summoned a flight attendant.
The lawsuit says that the flight attendant who responded did nothing to rectify the situation except to tell Krishnappa, "not cool, dude," and move the teen a few rows ahead, where Krishnappa could still see her.
The Seattle-based flight crew allegedly did nothing to investigate or document the incident and only gave the teen a bag of peanuts as she cried hysterically.
Upon landing more than four hours later, Krishnappa walked off the flight -- meaning, Daheim said, that United crew violated federal law by failing to report the assault to authorities.
The teen called her mother in tears to report what happened. Her mother booked a flight to come see her and contacted police, according to court records.
Krishnappa was arrested the next day.
The assault left the girl unable to participate in the prestigious conference and has since suffered social isolation, the complaint said.
United Airlines issued a statement about the case that reads, in part:
"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."
The FBI and federal prosecutors have encouraged passengers in recent months to report any sexual assault they witness or suffer aboard an airplane. During a press conference in August, the FBI said reports of sexual assault aboard aircraft have increased 30 percent in the previous four years.
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