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Family sues Delta in alleged molestation

ATLANTA - The family of an 11-year-old Alabama girl has filed a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines after the child said a man sexually molested her on a flight from San Diego to Atlanta.

Savannah lawyer Mark Tate, who represents the family, says Delta is responsible for some of the trauma the girl suffered because the airline is required by law to take extraordinary measures to ensure passengers' safety.

'No one is saying here that Delta is a dishonorable company or a poorly run airline,' Tate said. 'Mistakes can be made, and a mistake that shouldn't have been made caused a little girl to really be traumatized.'

Tate says the girl - who is not named in the lawsuit - reported the assault to her mother when she got off the plane Jan. 6, but authorities have filed no criminal charges and have not identified a suspect. The alleged molester switched seats with the girl 'so she could sit beside the window,' and it's possible he switched seats with other passengers, too, Tate said.

The case will likely require an identification by the girl rather than trying to match passenger names with seat assignments, he said.

The mother reported the incident to police in Huntsville, Ala., and Atlanta and to the FBI, Tate said. Police in Atlanta and Huntsville are not investigating the charges, spokesmen for the departments said.

Spokesmen for the FBI offices in Atlanta and Birmingham - which oversees the Huntsville office - said their offices are not investigating the incident either. The Birmingham office has no record of the mother's call, spokesman Paul Daymond said.

He also said that if any other FBI office were investigating the incident, his office would be aware because they would be asked to do the interviews with the family.

Delta has special rules for keeping a close watch on children flying alone, an airline spokeswoman said. The airline is investigating the incident, said Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton.

She declined further comment because of the pending lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in Fulton County State Court says the girl was on a return trip from San Diego where she was visiting her father. Her mother, a 31-year-old property manager from Huntsville, was set to meet the plane in Atlanta.

The lawsuit says the man began rubbing himself while rubbing the child's face. The girl asked a flight attendant if she could move seats after the man touched her, but she was told no, according to the lawsuit.