What’s it worth when a passengers is royally scared, but isn’t physically injured? A lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle will try to find an answer.

In September 2008, a Boeing 757 operated by American Airlines had to make an emergency diversion to Chicago O’Hare after its main battery became fully depleted.

Now, as we approach the second anniversary, a Seattle area woman has filed a lawsuit against American, saying the carrier didn’t “exercise the highest degree of care,” “breached its duty as a common carrier” and flew an airplane that wasn’t in good mechanical condition.

The lawsuit said American didn’t maintain the airplane properly, didn’t tell the pilots to land promptly when they discovered the electrical problems and didn’t train the pilots properly.

The lawsuit by passenger Jewel Thomas also accuses the pilots of not landing the airplane as soon as possible and accepting a landing on a short O’Hare runway that they should have known wasn’t long enough for the ailing aircraft.

An American spokeswoman said the airline hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet and declined to comment.

The lawsuit seeks damages and costs, but doesn’t specify an amount.

The nonstop flight from Seattle was headed to New York, but soon encountered a variety of electrical problems that eventually caused power to fail to a lot of aircraft functions. The pilots decided to divert to O’Hare.

Thomas said in her lawsuit that she and other passengers “felt terrified as they awaited the emergency landing.” She and others made last calls to loved ones, prayers were heard through the cabin, and she made a pact with the stranger sitting next to her to assist each other “if something should go wrong.”

On landing, the airplane slid off in the grass to the left side of the runway, the lawsuit and the National Transportation Safety Board report said.

The pilots were unable to shut down the engines because of the electrical problems. The passengers had remain on the aircraft for an hour before the engines were manually killed, the lawsuit said..

Here’s the lawsuit: Lawsuit Aug. 31, 2010.pdf

Here’s the NTSB report: NTSB report on Sept. 22, 2008 SEA-JFK diversion.doc

The Federal Aviation Administration on Jan. 13, 2009, issued a “safety alert for operators” to encourage them to adopt “comprehensive procedures and training for all electrical failures with a potential for main battery depletion.”

Here’s the FAA’s SAFO: SAFO from SEA-JFK electrical problems Jan. 13, 2009.pdf

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