A Washington state woman who says she was sexually assaulted by the man seated next to her on an overnight flight from Seattle to Amsterdam is suing Delta Air Lines, aiming to improve how airlines deal with such incidents.

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A Washington state woman who says she was sexually assaulted by the man seated next to her on an overnight flight from Seattle to Amsterdam is suing Delta Air Lines over its handling of the incident.

Allison Dvaladze, who launched a Facebook campaign to draw attention to such mid-air assaults, said she’s suing to try to force action by the airlines to address the problem.

“I’ve run into a brick wall with Delta,” she said in a phone interview. “This keeps on happening. Airlines need to acknowledge that it’s a problem and that ignoring it is not acceptable.”

Dvaladze told the Seattle Times in December that on the 2016 flight, the
stranger sitting beside her grabbed her crotch while she was drifting to sleep
in the darkened cabin and then repeatedly groped her as she protested and struggled out of her seat.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, says Dvaladze ran to the back of the plane to alert the flight crew after she was assaulted, but that the crew’s response was inadequate and negligent.

The suit alleges the airline did not have clear policies in place to deal with sexual assaults and did not adequately train its flight crews on how to respond to victims.

Dvaladze says she was allowed to change seats, but before landing, the crew asked her to return to her original seat next to her assailant. She refused.

The suit says flight attendants did not contact law enforcement, and as a result the culprit was able to walk off the plane in Amsterdam without consequences.

Dvaladze said she was told the man wasn’t sitting in his assigned seat and the crew did not establish his identity. The FBI opened an investigation after Dvaladze returned to Seattle weeks later, but was unable to identify her assailant.

When Dvaladze complained to the airline, Delta offered her 10,000 SkyMiles as a “small token in hopes of easing some of the frustration and inconvenience you may have felt.” After she repeatedly pushed for a more adequate response, Dvaladze says, Delta eventually informed her it had no record of the incident.

The lawsuit alleges that Delta is liable under the Montreal Convention, which governs international air travel. That treaty says an airline is liable for “bodily injury” suffered by a passenger due to any accident while on board the plane.

Dvaladze said there is some precedent in other cases that suggest liability for what the lawsuit alleges — “pain, shock, emotional distress,” and other psychological effects as well as loss of income and medical expenses.

Confidential support for survivors

If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, you can call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673). There is also an online chat option. Survivors in King County can call the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s 24-hour Resource Line at 888-99-VOICE (888-998-6423) or visit www.kcsarc.org/gethelp.

A former FBI agent responsible for collecting information at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on inflight crimes told the Seattle Times in December that groping and sexual misconduct aboard commercial flights is more common than the public generally realizes — and that many of the perpetrators get away without being charged.

Last summer, Senator Patty Murray co-sponsored a bill to mandate training of flight attendants in handling onboard sexual assaults and require reporting of such crimes.

However, Dvaladze said she has slim hope of that bill becoming law and so wants to force the airlines into action by other means.

Delta declined to comment on the lawsuit.