With the decrease in costs to fly, more Americans are using the skies as a convenient way of transportation. Airline travel has increased in the past ten years, according to a report by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. As expected, the increase in travel and passengers has increased the liability airlines may face in the transportation and management of their companies. American law has noticed this area of increased liability and has created not only laws but cases that recognize the unique situation in American tort law that airlines create.
Injuries occurring during the flight are the most common tort injuries claimed. This can be caused by improperly functioning overhead bins, seat belts that may not properly restrain passengers, malfunctioning seats, and injuries from carts and due to turbulence. This mix of sources of injuries makes for a unique tort situation where multiple parties are contributing to an atmosphere that is unsafe for passengers. For example, a passenger overloads their carry-on luggage and the luggage bin has a weak latch which gives way and injures another passenger. Are airlines completely responsible for that? Should airlines be liable for injuries from turbulence when they have no control over the weather?
Airlines generally fall into the category of common carriers, meaning that because they transport passengers for a fee, they owe those people the highest duty of care. This duty goes beyond the ordinary duty of care that is the foundation of most negligence claims. Airlines are expected to exercise this care over all aspects of the transportation process, from the arrival at the airport to getting passengers on and off the plane and everything in between. If a flight attendant or worker is negligent in their duties they can be held liable for any resulting injuries. This can include the flight attendant who carelessly injures a passenger with the beverage cart and the maintenance technician who negligently fails to inspect the hinges on the luggage bins.
Generally, airlines are not at fault for issues considered “acts of God” like turbulence. They can be held liable however for failure to warn passengers to take precaution. For instance, a failure to tell passengers to buckle up on landing may subject an airline to liability if a passenger is injured in unexpected turbulence. Because of the heightened duty of care, airlines are expected to invest heavily in equipment and information that can give them reliable information that they can send to the flight crew.
In addition to creating a negligence claim against an airline, there may also be an opportunity to bring a claim against the FAA. This is most prevalent with issues with controlling air traffic. If a blunder by an FAA employee causes one airplane to hit another, they may be brought in as additional defendants to a lawsuit.
Products liability claims may be available for an injured passenger. There are many companies that provide products and services to airlines and airports. If the negligence in those products is the cause of the injury a claim may be brought against these vendors. It may get complicated if in addition to a faulty product the airline was negligent in checking and maintaining the product or warning about the defect in the product.
This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases. Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance. If you were injured in an accident involving an air carrier please call one of our attorneys at David K. Kremin & Associates, and we will give you a free consultation. We never charge unless we collect for you. Please call 1(800) ASK-A-LAWYER or 1(800)275-2529.