A passenger who flew from Qatar to South Africa in June has said he will sue Qatar Airways after apparently being bitten by a poisonous spider on his flight.
However, the national carrier said it has not received any notice of legal proceedings, and it remains unclear how the spider got onto the aircraft in question.
Jonathon Hogg was on the third stage of a journey that had begun in Borneo when he said he felt a “small, sharp pain” in his left leg, which was later diagnosed as a bite from the venomous brown recluse spider.
Speaking to the Press Association (PA), the 40-year-old Briton said he turned on the light after feeling the pain and saw a spider running across the floor, and heard two stewardesses shouting about it.
Hogg said his leg later became swollen and bruised, and felt incredibly painful.
“The pain was like nothing I’ve been through in my life. By the time I got to hospital my leg was bursting open, there was pus, it was black,” Hogg said.
The passenger sought treatment in Cape Town the next day, where a doctor diagnosed the bite. Hogg said he had three operations and a skin graft during a month-long stay at a hospital in South Africa.
He has been told he may need another operation, as the skin graft he was given has not worked.
Speaking to the PA, he said:
“It really hit home when they removed the bandages and I saw what was left of my leg – it resembled something from a horror film. They had been forced to cut away so much, I was devastated.
However when I realised the extent of my injuries I realised I was just lucky to still have my leg – even if the sight of my leg shocked me when I finally saw it.”
Hogg, who is himself a barrister, has appointed a firm of lawyers in London to pursue his claim for damages from Qatar Airways.
A spokesman for the firm, Slater and Gordon, told Doha News that Hogg’s lawyer Richard Duxbury is now collecting and reviewing evidence and speaking to experts about the case. When this process has finished they will decide how to proceed, the company said.
Duxbury told PA that he believed the airline was culpable, saying: “Airlines have a responsibility to protect passengers from dangerous potential pests by properly fumigating all planes.”
Responding to questions about the incident, Qatar Airways sent Doha News a statement emphasizing what they say has been a lack of communication from Hogg:
“The only known interaction between the airline and Mr. Hogg regarding this incident, which he claims happened on a Qatar Airways aircraft in June, was via our website a week after his travel was complete. No report was filled with any staff on board regarding this incident.”
The statement added that they have not yet been made aware of any legal action being taken against them. The airline concluded by saying it takes the safety and security of its passengers “very seriously.”
Individual countries set rules on whether they require arriving aircraft to be “disinsected” – sprayed to kill insects on board.
On its website, Qatar Airways states that disinsection can either take place prior to a flight when the aircraft is empty, or during a flight when the passengers are on board.
It directs passengers to the US Department of Transportation website for further information, which states that South Africa only requires aircraft to be disinsected if they have flown in from areas affected by malaria or yellow fever.
This means Hogg’s Qatar Airways flight from Doha would not have been expected to have been sprayed.
The airline has not yet responded to questions from Doha News about its fumigation procedures.
A reclusive spider
The brown recluse spider is usually less than an inch wide, is brown or gray in color and has a black line down its abdomen that looks like a violin, giving the spider its other common name of the violin spider.
As its name suggests, the spider – which is native to the United States – prefers to hide, seeking out places where it can live undisturbed.
Accordingly, it doesn’t go out of its way to interact with humans. In 2001 for example, more than 2,000 of the species were removed from a home in Kansas, but the four people who lived in the house had never been bitten by one.
When the brown recluse spider does bite, studies show that the vast majority of cases are mild, with a minority of cases resulting in serious complications like necrosis.
Hogg’s case is similar to that of Brandi DeLaO, who successfully sued Delta Airlines in 2012 for US$80,000 after she was bitten by a brown recluse spider on a flight from Atlanta to South Africa.
DeLaO’s lawyer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time that under international aviation laws, she could have received a maximum of around $175,000 in compensation, but settled for less due to “uncertainty about where the spider came from and the difficulty of laying blame on Delta.”
Delta had said that the aircraft had been inspected after DeLaO’s flight and the spider had not been found.