Supreme Court Hears Case About Airline Lawsuit Immunity Related to Threats

Can an airline be held liable for defamation?


Supreme Court justices wrestled Monday with how much leeway to grant airlines in reporting security threats that turn out to be false.

The case involves Air Wisconsin Airlines, which argued that it deserves the same immunity from lawsuits as is granted the Transportation Security Administration.

The airline had lost a $1.4 million defamation case after reporting that a pilot, William Hoeper, was "mentally unstable" and could be armed as a passenger on a flight after he failed a simulator test.

"Those are trigger words in this context," said Kevin Russell, a lawyer representing Hoeper at the high court.

Justice Stephen Breyer provoked laughter when he said his children have been known to call him mentally unstable, but he said that doesn't resolve which complaints deserve protection from lawsuits.