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Alaska Airlines and Jeremy Hermanns – Airline Mishap Meets Blogging Power

When I blogged about Jeremy Hermanns blogging about his hair-raising event on an Alaska Airlines flight, my reasons were mixed.

First, I was stunned by the fact that this story made it to Digg and other tagging and social bookmarking services top stories, and then even more stunned that the media not only grabbed up the story but Jeremy’s blog, spreading the news of this non-event all over the world.

Second, the only parts of the original story that we found fascinating personally was the aspect of a police report being filed by Alaska Airlines of a “hit and run” (baggage handler dented the plane and didn’t report it) and the exciting fact that even with such a dent which became a hole, the plane flew on and landed safely, showcasing one of the reasons why my husband is one of thousands of airplane engineers, mechanics, and technicians work so hard for airplane safety.

Third, the after-post by Jeremy that many abusive comments on his blog came from Alaska Airlines registered IP addresses. Real or faked, this is something of concern.

Now, Blog Business Summit has posted “Respondeat superior: What does it mean for Alaska Airlines?”, announcing a podcast today (Jan 4, 2006) on the topic, and I’m even more stunned by where this story has gone:

A number of bloggers have brought up the issue of “respondeat superior” which is Latin for “let the master answer” with regard to the case of the nasty comments which were allegedly posted on Jeremy Hermanns’ blog by Alaska Airlines employees. The legal concept – which is well supported by precedent – holds employers responsible for the actions of their employees when they are acting within the scope of their duties. Some bloggers have brought up the concept to explain why they think that Alaska could be in some legal hot water.

To shed some light on this and other areas of interest in the case, I’ve scheduled an interview for tomorrow afternoon with Greg Schwartz – a Seattle attorney who specializes in such matters – for a special edition of our new podcast The Blog Business Summit Report [XML].

Yes, the story continues. So what is respondeat superior? According to The Lectric Law Library’s Lexicon On Respondeat Superior:

RESPONDEAT SUPERIOR – Lat. for the “boss has to answer for what his employees do.” Usually used to refer to the concept that a principal/employer has responsibility for the actions/omissions of agents/employees

The key issue under California law is whether the act was committed in the course of carrying out the employer’s business. Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc., 41 Cal.3d 962, 719 P.2d 676, 227 Cal. Rptr. 106 (1986).

When it comes to the control of people, the background rule is that “a person owes no duty to control the conduct of another.” Beauchene, 88 Cal. App. 3d at 347, 151 Cal. Rptr. at 798. California courts have carved out an exception to that rule, “where a special relationship exists between the defendant and the injured party, or between the defendant and the active wrongdoer.” Id. (citing Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 17 Cal. 3d 425, 435, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14, 23, 551 P.2d 334 (1976)).

The Dictionary at Law.com offers a more clear definition:

Latin for “let the master answer,” a key doctrine in the law of agency, which provides that a principal (employer) is responsible for the actions of his/her/its agent (employee) in the “course of employment.” Thus, an agent who signs an agreement to purchase goods for his employer in the name of the employer can create a binding contract between the seller and the employer. Another example: if a delivery truck driver negligently hits a child in the street, the company for which the driver works will be liable for the injuries.

In a comment on my post, Teresa Valdez Klein, a Project Manager for Blog Business Summit, asked me if I would post my thoughts, questions, and comments on their post about respondeat superior and the Alaska Airlines incident for their expert attorney during their podcast.

This got me thinking. The issues I think the discussion with Blog Business Summit should tackle are:

1) Whether or not Alaska Airlines did indeed have an employee or contractor put those nasty comments on Jeremy’s blog? (Fact vs. Fiction – are we making a mountain out of this?)

2) If they did, should Alaska Airlines be held responsible under the legal angle “respondeat superior” and penalized?

3) What penalties should Alaska Airlines get for “sponsorship” of such comments on blogs? How will this impact corporate bloggers who comment on other blogs as well as company employees? Will there be new terms added to the employment contract to protect companies from people who comment on blogs?

4) Will “respondeat superior” become the new term for comment spam for bloggers in 2006?

5) What actions/responsibilities/steps do bloggers need to take to learn more, fight against it, and how to handle it?

Is this the beginning of legal action against comment spammers? Do we now need to investigate every suspicious comment spam’s IP to track down the responsible “parent” and target them? How does this change blogging for the Blogosphere? Most importantly, how should this change how I blog? Does it? Do I have some kind of responsibility for comment spammers or will a bigger group step in and help to protect me, the blogger, from corporate comment spam? Personally, I’d be happy if they cracked down harder on comment spammers from sex, casino, and drug groups.

So what do you think? If you have comments on comments or questions, post them on their post about respondeat superior and the Alaska Airlines incident, and let me know what you think.

I’m sure that Jeremy Hermanns had no idea that when he posted his scary incidence that it would get so huge or out of control. I’m sure he loves the attention, and it will interesting to see this through. Still, this continues to show the power and influence blogging has. I’m proud to be a small part of that.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 4, 2006 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comments on Teresa’s post. The interview with Greg Schwartz will be posted soon. Teresa said it went very well.


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