A family has settled a lawsuit against Continental Airlines for their daughter allegedly being terrorized in flight by a loose python - a snake used by a female passenger for therapy for earlier sex harassment.
The father of the frightened girl said the python's owner was going to a New York conference to show the serpent off ""as the one and only snake that is an assisted animal in the United States.''
""Assisted animals'' is the term applied to seeing-eye dogs and other animals that help handicapped humans. They are permitted under certain circumstances on most public carriers.
However, it remained unclear whether the woman was authorized to bring the 6-foot-long snake aboard - or if she smuggled it onto the plane in her carry-on gym bag.
Formal dismissal of the suit is pending before state District Judge Lamar McCorkle. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Plaintiff's attorney James Jameson said part of the agreement calls for no comment on any aspects of the litigation.
The bizarre case began when Houstonians Timothy and Stacy Taylor and their two children boarded a flight to New York on Oct. 11, 1994. Daughter Alexandra, then 5 years old, was to be a flower girl that weekend in the wedding of Stacy Taylor's sister.
The girl was in a window seat, napping with her head on her mother's shoulder. ""I closed my eyes for two minutes,'' Stacy Taylor said in her deposition. ""I woke up . . . to see a large snake with his head approximately half an inch from my daughter's leg.''
Taylor said she tried to lift her daughter up from the peril, but the girl had her seat belt on. The mother was finally able to unbuckle it, and quickly passed the girl on to her father across the aisle. They hustled her to the back of the plane and checked for bites.
The snake had emerged from a bag positioned under the seat of the woman sitting in front of the girl. Timothy Taylor told attorneys the woman, ""nonchalantly took her hand and scooped back and scooped (the snake) up, threw it in her tote bag and just sat back.''
After about 30 minutes in the rear of the plane, the family returned to their seats for the remainder of an uneasy flight to New York.
As the passengers were departing, the pilot ordered the woman to open her bag. He looked in and told her, ""You've opened yourself to a world of trouble,'' Stacy Taylor said.
The family was generally complimentary to the crew, saying they handled themselves in a professional manner and apologized about the incident.
Timothy Taylor's deposition said he was able to contact the snake's owner by telephone, and was given an unusual explanation for her serpentine pet named Jessica.
He said she told him that she was sexually harassed by a professor while she was a teaching assistant or graduate student at Texas A&M University.
""No one stood up to defend her so she became traumatized,'' Timothy Taylor told of the conversation. ""Her therapist - and this is where it gets very bizarre - suggested a snake would help her over her sex harassment experiences . . . Now she travels with Jessica (the snake) all the time.''
The woman told him she is active in an organization that provides animals to patients, nursing home occupants and others, as a form of therapy, his deposition said.
As for the Taylors' daughter, the parents said she has suffered nightmares and does not like to fly. She has pointed in the sky to planes and asked if they are carrying snakes, her mother told attorneys.
The snake's owner offered to bring her 6-inch-diameter snake to the Taylor home, to help them ""better understand that Jessica would never mean to harm my daughter, and that Jessica's role in life is good,'' Timothy Taylor said. The family declined the offer.
Flying python prompts lawsuit; Snake nearly attacks girl sleeping in seat of Continental Airlines plane
20 August 1995
Timothy and Stacy Taylor have sued Continental Airlines Inc., accusing the carrier of allowing a python to nearly attack their 5- year-old daughter as she slept in her seat.
The couple's attorney, James Jameson, said the incident occurred while the family was traveling to New York for a wedding last fall in which Alexandra Taylor was going to be the flower girl.
``But that flight turned into a devastating experience for her and her parents,'' he said.
According to the lawsuit, filed Friday in state district court, the Taylors boarded Flight 128 from Houston to LaGuardia Airport on Oct. 11, 1994.
The Taylors were unaware that the passenger seated directly in front of them had brought a python aboard in a gym bag, tucked under the seat, Jameson said, declining to estimate the size of the reptile.
The suit says the snake was released ``and got its head to within inches'' of the sleeping girl and the girl's mother discovered it ``as it was crawling towards her daughter in preparation for attack.''
The flight crew told the family the snake was considered an ``assisted animal'' and its owner had authorization to bring it on board, the suit says.
The assisted animal designation normally is reserved for seeing- eye dogs and other animals with supporting functions for their masters, Jameson said.
``Regardless, it is the responsibility of the airline to provide a safe and secure cabin for passengers,'' he said. A Continental spokeswoman said she could not comment on pending litigation. The airline said in certain situations passengers can transport animals.
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