SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A blind man who claims he was bullied by an air marshal when he tried to recline in his first-class seat on a Delta flight says he suffered from "insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and vivid and recurrent nightmares," from the ordeal.
Ronald J. Gardner sued Delta Air Lines and the federal government on Tuesday in Federal Court.
Gardner claims that on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Salt Lake City in 2011, a federal air marshal repeatedly "jolted" Gardner's seat forward.
Gardner, who is legally blind, says he is a "very seasoned and adept air traveler" and a diamond-status member of Delta's frequent flier club.
"Gardner is [a] blind traveler with little remaining vision and walks with a white cane," the complaint states. "Despite his legal blindness, Mr. Gardner is a very seasoned and adept air traveler."
On his Jan. 20, 2011 flight, Gardner says, when he attempted to recline in his first-class seat, "His seat was immediately jolted forward from the passenger sitting directly behind him.
"When Mr. Gardner later attempted to recline his seat, his seat was again immediately jolted forward by the passenger in the seat behind him.
"This happened a total of three times. Each jolt to his seat propelled Mr. Gardner forward in his seat at an alarming speed.
"Concerned for his safety and not wanting a confrontation with the passenger behind him, Mr. Gardner got out of his seat and addressed with the head flight attendant the issue of his seat and him being assaulted," the complaint states.
Gardner claims that the passenger behind him was a federal air marshal, who "verbally abused and degraded" him when he returned to his seat.
When the lead flight attendant told him the unruly passenger was an air marshal, it caused him "tremendous fear and anxiety," Gardner says.
"Gardner understood that federal air marshals carry guns and, presumably, have access to flight manifests with passenger specific information," the complaint states. "Gardner was fearful that the federal air marshal would be able to cause significant harm to him on the flight, and that he could also find his home and his family and continue to harass him and them after the flight landed.
"The remainder of Mr. Gardner's flight was extremely unnerving. He began to shake uncontrollably."
Gardner says that as the end of the flight approached, the lead flight attendant promised to escort him to the airport's exit.
However, upon landing and after "an extensive time period, it was clear that the flight attendant was not going to help Mr. Gardner as promised," he says.
Not only that, Gardner says, the air marshal stood to block the aisle as he tried to leave the plane.
Gardner says he "let out a scream" in response and asked, "What is he doing here?"
The lead flight attendant replied, "Well, I guess he (meaning the air marshal) has as much right to get off the plane when he wants as anyone else."
Gardner says the face-off was planned.
Gardner says he "quickly" squeezed by the air marshal when an airport employee arrived to help him off the plane, but that the marshal "continued to follow Mr. Gardner and harass and intimidate him."
Gardner claims that he spoke with the flight captain upon deplaning, who told him, "Ah, you'll be OK."
Gardner claims the air marshal followed him through the airport, until he "ultimately hurried to another exit of the airport to evade the air marshal."
As a result of the "abusive and unlawful treatment," Gardner says, he suffers from "post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, difficult breathing, periodic, anxiety-related loss of the little remaining vision Mr. Gardner has, panic attacks, and fear of public places."
Gardner says he also suffers from insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and vivid and recurrent nightmares, and lost his job.
"Once fiercely independent, Mr. Gardner also now suffers from a loss of independence and does not feel comfortable in public places without a non-blind companion," the complaint states.
Gardner seeks attorney's fees and damages for negligence, assault and false imprisonment.
He is represented by Charles Dahlquist II with Kirton McConkie.
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