An attack on a plane by a fellow passenger’s emotional-support dog left Marlin Jackson needing 28 stitches, according to a negligence lawsuit filed Friday against Delta Air Lines and the dog’s owner. In the suit, Jackson claims he bled so badly that a row of seats later had to be removed from the plane.
Jackson had just taken his window seat in the 31st row for a June 2017 flight from Atlanta to San Diego when the dog, sitting on the lap of the passenger next to him, lunged for his face, pinning him against the window of the plane so he couldn’t escape, the lawsuit alleges.
The complaint filed in Fulton County state court in Georgia alleges that Delta “took no action to verify or document the behavioral training of the large animal.” It also alleges that the dog owner, Ronald K. Mundy Jr., a Marine, “knew or … should have known that his large animal was foreseeably dangerous.”
The alleged attack is one of numerous reports in the past few years of emotional-support animals causing trouble for airline passengers, incidents that have pushed airlines to crack down on which animals they allow on planes.
In the months following the attack, Delta tightened rules around emotional-support and service animals. The airline required passengers beginning in March 2018 to provide “confirmation of animal training,” proof of the animal’s immunization records as well as a letter from a doctor or licensed mental health professional regarding the request for the support animal.
When Delta announced the change, it cited an 84 percent spike in reported animal incidents since 2016 “including urination/defecation, biting” and the incident involving Jackson.
Jackson’s attorney, J. Ross Massey of Alexander Shunnarah & Associates, called the policy changes a “step in the right direction.” “But of course changing the rule after the fact doesn’t excuse that there are rules you didn’t follow beforehand,” he added.
The complaint alleges that despite an existing policy to require larger animals to be secured on the floor, the dog remained on his owner’s lap.
Delta said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but in a statement said it “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.” The company pointed to its 2018 policy updates that “reinforce Delta’s core value of putting safety first, always.”
The lawsuit calls for a jury trial, and an unspecified amount in damages for pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses. But Massey said he hopes the lawsuit will also push Delta to enforce its policies so passengers can be assured animals on flights are safe or safely secured.
Before he took his seat, Jackson asked Mundy if the reportedly 50-pound dog — a “chocolate lab-pointer mix,” according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution — would bite, and the dog owner said Jackson would be safe.
“While Mr. Jackson was securing his seatbelt, the animal began to growl at Mr. Jackson and shift in Defendant Mundy’s lap,” the lawsuit reads. “Suddenly, the animal attacked Mr. Jackson’s face, biting Mr. Jackson several times. … The attack was briefly interrupted when the animal was pulled away from Mr. Jackson. However, the animal broke free and again mauled Mr. Jackson’s face.”
Massey said teeth punctured through Jackson’s gum, above his lip and beneath his nose. He has suffered permanent scarring, the complaint says, and his attorney said he still experiences numbness in the area, and has intermittent speech issues.
Before Delta makes further policy updates, Massey also called for training airline employees to enforce existing rules.
“I’m convinced that training would prevent this potential harm for somebody else,” he said.