Impolite Air Travelers, Meet Tort Law: Battery by Reclining Seat

I laughed to read this CNN article about air travelers reclining their seats back into the legs and laps of the passenger seated behind them. That’s totally unacceptable. I don’t care if the seat is CAPABLE of reclining, it doesn’t mean one can benignly operate the chair in that manner when offensive contact with another person is caused. Intentional unwanted contact with another person constitutes the civil tort of battery for which punitive damages can be awarded. Battery is also a crime.

This is mind-boggling – from the article:

As Brian Dougal leaned back on the Denver-bound flight late last month, he felt someone bump his seat, according to a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado.

“Are you serious? My knees are up against the seat,” said the man behind him, identified as Tomislav Zelenovic, according to the complaint.

Dougal suggested that Zelenovic also recline, slide into an empty seat next to him or move his legs to the side. Dougal told the man in 10C that he paid for his seat and was going to recline it.

Zelenovic then shook the back of Dougal’s seat and grabbed his right ear, pulling it back and down with enough force to knock Dougal’s glasses off his face, according to the complaint.

When the plane landed in Denver, police officers escorted Zelenovic off the flight. He was charged with assault “by striking, beating, or wounding on an aircraft” and has pleaded not guilty. Zelenovic’s attorney declined to comment on the case for this article.

So the VICTIM is charged with criminal assault! Wow! After being intentionally battered with a seat-back by the unrelenting schmuck in front of him, he responds with in-kind self defense (he didn’t strike or beat the offender any more than he was being struck or beaten) and the victim becomes the accused party here!? Just wow…

As I continue the article I find links to travel bloggers’ sites who discuss the phenomenon of unwanted seat-reclining, and I’m shocked to find the general opinion is it’s an issue of politeness, it shouldn’t be done, but it’s part of the deal of air travel and you don’t really have grounds to complain if it happens to you.

I don’t quite know what’s wrong with these commentators. The idea that I implicitly CONSENT to have an INTENTIONAL TORT inflicted upon me when I buy a ticket to fly, is absurd. Mush-for-brains, galactically absurd. Without a shred of acknowledgment of the legal, tort law standards by which our actions in a civil society are, and must, be governed.

The intentional tort of battery, a very standard definition:

… The second type of contact that may constitute battery causes no actual physical harm but is, instead, offensive or insulting to the victim. Examples include spitting in someone’s face or offensively touching someone against his or her will.Touching the person of someone is defined as including not only contacts with the body, but also with anything closely connected with the body, such as clothing or an item carried in the person’s hand. For example, a battery may be committed by intentionally knocking a hat off someone’s head or knocking a glass out of some-one’s hand.

Although the contact must be intended, there is no requirement that the defendant intend to harm or injure the victim. In Tort Law, the intent must be either specific intent—the contact was specifically intended—or general intent—the defendant was substantially certain that the act would cause the contact.

Consent is a defense. If you consent to the battery, you cannot claim you were battered. The typical example is walking through a crowd. There will be a reasonable amount of contact. If reason is not exceeded, there is no battery.

No way is there a consent defense here. Not in the reclining seat case. Because it isn’t reasonable! Just because the seat CAN recline, doesn’t make it reasonable to recline it into contact with an unwilling person, causing them all sorts of mental and physical discomfort. Consent would only apply in this case if, when you were leaned back upon, you didn’t object (implied consent) or you actively gave consent.

Not only should the offending passenger have to pay punitive damages of at least double or triple the cost of the ticket bought by the victim, but the airline aught to be liable as well for breach of contract – because the agreement between the passenger and airline is an exchange of money in return for a seat and transportation, and any reasonable interpretation of a “seat” does not include being contacted and pressed upon by the reclined back of the seat in front of you – regardless of whether the seats are mechanically capable of reclining. Anything else a creative lawyer could jinn up against the airline for a little more sting would be suitable. Some sort of failure of their public carrier’s duty to use their apparent authority to halt the commission of a tort.

If I am able to check up on the unjust case against Tomislav Zelenovic, or contact his attorney, I will let you know.

Til then, know that reclining your seat into an unwilling someone constitutes the civil tort of battery. It’s not JUST impolite.


UPDATE: LOVE the link to the KNEE DEFENDER, in comments below! Hilarious and practical – and apparently legal – attachment to YOUR tray table.