A passenger traveling on a 2017 Delta flight is suing the airline and a pet owner, claiming that an emotional support dog bit him in an attack that left permanent damage to his face.
Marlin Jackson of Alabama filed the lawsuit over the June 2017 incident on Friday. He’s accusing the airline and the dog owner, a U.S. Marine, of negligence and demanding an unspecified amount of damages.
The lawsuit states Jackson was in a window seat when the dog sitting on the lap of the passenger next to him lunged for his face and pinned him against the wall of the aircraft, biting his face. The dog was identified on the police report as a mix of chocolate Labrador retriever and pointer. The attack occurred during boarding on a flight scheduled to travel from Atlanta and San Diego. Jackson said he asked the pet owner if the dog would bite before taking his seat.
The lawsuit claims Jackson bled so badly from his injuries that the airline had to remove the entire row of seats from the plane. He needed 28 stitches for lacerations that left permanent scars and loss of sensation in areas of his face. Jackson is accusing Delta of negligence due to the airline’s failure to ensure the safety of its passengers and for allowing a dog on board without being properly restrained. The lawsuit also argues that the dog’s owner should have been aware that the pet could pose a threat to passengers.
A representative of Delta said the airline would not comment on pending litigation but shared more details on its policy regarding animals onboard.
Delta continuously reviews and enhances its policies and procedures for animals onboard as part of its commitment to health, safety and protecting the rights of customers with disabilities. In 2018, Delta tightened its policies on emotional support animals by requiring a “confirmation of animal training” form as well as other official documentation. The airline also banned pit bulls and animals under four months of age as service or support animals. These policy updates reinforce Delta’s core value of putting safety first, always.
When Delta announced its ban on “pit bull type dogs” as service or support animals on its flights, the airline referenced the June 2017 attack, even though the incident involved a Labrador mix. Such a ban was also scrutinized as it could make life more difficult for people with disabilities who rely on service dogs with pit bull resemblances. Critics also argued that the ban stigmatized certain dog breeds.
Jackson’s lawyers, J. Ross Massey and Graham Roberts of Alexander Shunnarah & Associates, told HuffPost that they were aware Delta had implemented new policies after the incident took place but are questioning why airline employees didn’t follow procedures in place at the time of the attack.
“The attack on Mr. Jackson would not have happened had Delta enforced their own pre-existing policies concerning animals in the cabin,” the attorneys wrote in a statement.
Jackson’s lawyers are arguing the airline assigned the dog and owner to a middle seat, when Delta’s policy at the time indicated a dog of that size should have been secured on the cabin floor and given special seating accommodations.