HOUSTON – The wife of megachurch pastor Joel Osteen thanked and praised God after a civil jury unanimously ruled Thursday she did not assault a flight attendant during an alleged angry tirade over a spill on her first-class seat.
The jurors rejected the claims in a lawsuit filed by Continental Airlines flight attendant Sharon Brown, who had been seeking at least $405,000 for actual damages — physical and mental pain as a result of an attack she alleged took place before the start of a December 2005 flight from Houston to Vail, Colo.
After the jury's verdict was read, Victoria Osteen began to cry and hugged her attorneys and several supporters in the courtroom as she said "thank you God" and "praise God." The 12 jurors deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours.
"I'm glad it's over," Victoria Osteen said afterward. "I expected it because it's the truth and I know the truth always stands firm."
Brown claimed Victoria Osteen got so upset when a spill on her first-class seat's armrest was not quickly cleaned up that she threw the flight attendant against a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast while attempting to rush the cockpit.
Victoria Osteen, the co-pastor of Houston's popular Lakewood Church, testified no such incident took place, as did her husband and other first-class passengers. Victoria Osteen's lawyer dismissed Brown's lawsuit as a made-up story concocted to land a courtroom payday.
Joel Osteen, whose church draws about 42,000 a week for services and whose TV show and books are popular around the world, said he and his family hold no ill will toward Brown and they have prayed for her.
"It's a great vindication and shows us the faithfulness of God," he said.
Joel Osteen said the trial taught him and his family some lessons.
"We've grown through it and learned to trust God and do the right thing," he said. "Life is a test. We really have tried to live out our faith, what we teach (at church) and that is love your enemies, do the right thing when the wrong things happen, have a good attitude even when things aren't going well."
Reginald McKamie, Brown's attorney, said afterward, "We're disappointed in the verdict."
Brown quickly left the courtroom without talking to reporters, but in a brief statement her attorney read, she said, "We gave the truth to the jury. We are happy we had an opportunity to try our case."
The jury's foreman, Gilles Labbe, said he and other jurors believed what happened on the plane was only a minor dispute between a passenger and one or more of the flight attendants.
"My personal point of view (the lawsuit) was a complete waste of time because the incident didn't rise to any kind of level. I fly all the time. I've seen a lot worse than that happen on airplanes."
Labbe said he wishes he could have awarded the Osteens their legal fees.
In his closing argument earlier Thursday after a weeklong trial, Rusty Hardin, Victoria Osteen's attorney, described the incident as a verbal dispute, and labeled Brown's claims that she suffered injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder a "sacrilege" and a "blasphemy."
Hardin questioned Brown's motives for filing the lawsuit, telling jurors if an assault had taken place and the flight attendant had truly wanted Victoria Osteen to be held accountable, she would have sought criminal charges.
"If your motives are pure, that's where you go first," he said. "If you want to hold her responsible and not look to line your pockets and hit the lottery then you go to law enforcement. She didn't do that."
In his closing argument, McKamie told jurors that because of her status as a religious leader, Victoria Osteen felt she had "favor from God." That led her to believe she was above reproach for humiliating and assaulting his client, he said.
"Sharon Brown, when Victoria assaulted her, was humiliated and she lost her trust in her faith providers," said McKamie.
Besides money for actual damages, Brown had requested punitive damages amounting to 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth as part of her lawsuit.
But jurors only would have considered punitive damages if they had found that Victoria Osteen had assaulted Brown and had done so with malice. Victoria Osteen's net worth, which her attorneys declined to discuss, only would have been detailed in court if the trial had reached the punitive damages stage.
The Osteens paid a $3,000 fine the Federal Aviation Administration levied against Victoria Osteen for interfering with a crew member but testified they did that to put the incident behind them.