American Airlines backtracks on filing that blamed 9-year-old for being filmed in bathroom

Estes Thompson is shown in this booking photo. (Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority)

(NEW YORK) -- One day after lawyers for American Airlines argued a 9-year-old child acted negligently when she was recorded by a hidden camera in an airplane lavatory, the airline is backpedaling that defense.

FBI agents knocked on the 9-year-old's family home almost a year after the alleged incident in January 2023 to inform her parents that videos of the child were found on a phone belonging to a former flight attendant who is currently in custody.

The airline on Wednesday said in a statement about the filing, "Our outside legal counsel retained with our insurance company made an error in this filing. The included defense is not representative of our airline and we have directed it be amended this morning. We do not believe this child is at fault and we take the allegations involving a former team member very seriously. Our core mission is to care for people — and the foundation of that is the safety and security of our customers and team."

The court filing was submitted on behalf of American Airlines on Tuesday in response to a civil lawsuit filed by the 9-year-old's parents in Texas District Court against the airline and the flight attendant, Estes Carter Thompson III, who allegedly recorded the child.

The filing, which generally denies the allegations and raises several affirmative defenses, including contributory negligence, states, "Defendant would show that any injuries or illnesses alleged to have been sustained by Plaintiff, Mary Doe, were proximately caused by Plaintiff's own fault and negligence, were proximately caused by Plaintiff's use of the compromised lavatory, which she knew or should have known contained a visible and illuminated recording device."

The lawsuit was filed by Mary Doe's parents, alleging that Thompson secretly filmed their 9-year-old daughter in the airplane's lavatory on a flight to Los Angeles in January 2023.

Thompson is currently in federal custody after being charged with one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of images of child sexual abuse depicting a prepubescent minor. He was arrested after a 14-year-old passenger on another flight discovered Thompson's hidden phone in the plane lavatory. Police said Thompson allegedly possessed recordings of four additional minor female passengers who used bathrooms aboard the same aircraft. One of those recordings was allegedly of Mary Doe. Thompson has pleaded not guilty.

Reacting to the airline's filing Tuesday, Jane Doe, mother of Mary Doe, said, "Instead of taking responsibility for this awful event, American Airlines is actually blaming our daughter for being filmed."

"How in good conscience could they even make such a suggestion? It both shocks and angers us. American Airlines has no shame," the mother added.

Responding to American Airlines backtracking on their court filing, Paul Llewellyn, a lawyer representing the family of the 9-year-old girl, said Wednesday, "American Airlines has clearly faced intense media and public backlash over their blaming of a 9 year old for being filmed. To claim that they filed the "wrong" [answer] is simply not credible. But the bell cannot be unwrung. They should never have taken such a position in the first place."

Llewellyn said the airline did not reach out to the family after the recording was discovered.

Representatives for American Airlines did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the attorney's claim that the airline did not reach out to the family.

Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 6:21AM by Ayesha Ali, ABC News Permalink