Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Woman Sues after Rolex Missing at Airport; She Says the Watch Was Lost at Virginia Security Checkpoint

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Woman Sues after Rolex Missing at Airport; She Says the Watch Was Lost at Virginia Security Checkpoint

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

Imagine being ordered by airport security workers to put your very expensive watch on a scanning belt, over your objections. Then imagine going to retrieve it and it's gone.

A Baker County woman says that experience at Norfolk International Airport in Virginia last year cost her a $24,000 Rolex her husband saved up to buy her on her 50th birthday.

Now she's suing the U.S. Transportation Security Administration after the agency rejected her claim letter and her congressman unsuccessfully attempted to intervene.

The lawsuit, filed in Jacksonville federal court this month, accuses TSA of negligence and bailment, a legal term that makes someone holding another's property responsible if it is lost.

"Basically they called me a liar. They treated me like crap," said Paulene Showalter, 63, of Glen St. Mary. Showalter is secretary to Duval County Public Defender Matthew Shirk.

TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches said Friday the agency couldn't comment on a specific case in litigation. She said about 2.5 million pieces of luggage pass through screening daily at U.S. airports, and missing property reports total about 45 a day, less than a hundredth of 1 percent.

In a November letter denying Showalter, TSA's claims office in Virginia said there were "no legally sustainable grounds" for a finding of liability against the agency.

Showalter's attorney, Howard Coker, said TSA contends Showalter never had a Rolex on her wrist that day, something she vehemently denies. Security cameras apparently weren't working, according to Showalter and TSA's response to inquiries by U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla.

"We have eyewitnesses who say she did have this type of watch, including one who saw it on the day in question," Coker said.

Showalter said she was preparing to board a return flight to Jacksonville last February when she was ordered by security officers to put her watch in a bin and place it on a conveyor belt. She said she objected several times but was told she had no choice if she wanted to board her flight, so eventually she complied. …

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