By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former JetBlue Airways Corp pilot whose midair meltdown forced an emergency landing of a 2012 flight on Friday sued the carrier for $14.9 million, saying it should have grounded him because it knew he was incapable of flying.
Clayton Osbon, 52, filed his lawsuit in Manhattan federal court three days after the crash of a Germanwings plane in the French Alps, which killed 150 passengers and crew. Authorities believe that plane’s co-pilot deliberately caused the crash.
Osbon also sued exactly three years after his erratic behavior on a New York-to-Las Vegas flight that he was co-piloting resulted in an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.
That occurred after Osbon began running through the aisles, ranting about religion and terrorism and making comments such as “We’re not going to Vegas” and “You’d better start praying now!” Passengers subdued Osbon as another co-pilot landed the plane.
In his lawsuit, Osbon said his conduct on the flight stemmed from a “complex partial brain seizure” that JetBlue should have caught before he boarded, after he had missed a preflight meeting and appeared disheveled, disoriented and slow.
“JetBlue failed to make any effort to ensure that Captain Osbon was fit to fly,” the complaint said. “Instead, JetBlue maintained a culture designed to protect the careers of crewmembers that were demonstrably impaired.”
Osbon said the episode subjected him to “national public embarrassment” in traditional and social media, and derailed his job prospects.
A federal judge later found him not guilty by reason of insanity to a criminal charge of interfering with a flight crew.
The lawsuit accuses JetBlue of negligence and breach of contract. It seeks $4.85 million of compensatory damages, $4.85 million of punitive damages, a combined $4.85 million for reputational damage and emotional distress, and other sums.
New York has a three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims.
Philip Stewart, a spokesman for Long Island City, New York-based JetBlue, said it stood behind “the heroic actions of the crew, who followed well established safety and security procedures both before and during the flight.”
Osbon’s lawyer Matthew McDonald declined to comment.
The lawsuit said Osbon’s brain damage was not diagnosed until several months after his arrest. It also said he has not suffered seizures while taking his prescribed medication, and that he is permitted to drive.
The case is Osbon v. JetBlue Airways Corp, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-02306.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)