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In-Flight Injuries on Airplanes

Air travel is relatively safe compared to travel by automobile or train. Fatal crashes are far rarer for airplanes than for ground transportation. Still, serious injuries in flight occasionally occur. They may be as minor as a twisted ankle or as severe as brain injuries during air turbulence. Other personal injury hazards for airline passengers include:

  • Falling objects, like baggage on the loose in overhead bins
  • Hot coffee spills during turbulence
  • Tripping hazards in aisles

Severe turbulence can result in concussions or catastrophic injuries after a plane crash. Anyone who has been injured during a plane trip should be aware of their potential rights. Sometimes the airline or its employees can be held responsible for aviation accidents.

The disclaimer is that a victim must sort through complicated legal rules. They must determine whether they can recover monetary relief through a lawsuit. After an airplane accident, it can be challenging to identify a defendant to sue.

Safety Measures To Expect While Traveling

To prevent in-flight injuries, airlines must implement reasonable safety procedures and policies. Flight attendants must inspect airplane seats and aisles prior to seating passengers. They make sure that items on food carts are secure and that passengers are wearing seat belts before takeoff. You can also expect that an airplane will have been inspected for airworthiness.

These safety measures are inherent to an airline's duty as a common carrier. Under negligence law, responsible businesses generally owe a duty of care to their patrons. This means they must prevent foreseeable harm to likely victims. For example, to prevent the wrongful death of its passengers, an airline is required to hire capable pilots to fly its planes.

When an airline fails to take reasonable safety measures, it may be sued as a defendant. A government investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may reveal liability.

Airline Liability: Determining Who Is Responsible

Airlines and air carriers are held to a high standard of care for their passengers. They are governed by the Federal Aviation Act, which requires that carriers exercise a high standard of care. Common carriers, or companies that transport passengers, must exercise utmost care and diligence.

An airline is responsible for even the slightest negligence on the part of its employees. The company must do all that is reasonable under the circumstances to prevent injuries. But an injury alone is not enough to conclude that the airline was negligent. There must be some evidence showing the airline was responsible for the injury.

If an accident happens during travel abroad, you may still file a claim in your home state. Under the Montreal Convention, an international treaty, injured parties or their loved ones can sue airlines from their principal residence. Commercial airlines have liability on domestic and international flights alike. Injured passengers have a right to sue negligent airlines in order to recover damages, including medical bills.

The Duty of a 'Common Carrier' and Its Employees

An airline or common carrier must exercise vigilance in all aspects of aviation. This includes the plane's:

  • Operation
  • Maintenance
  • Inspection
  • Loading
  • Boarding

For example, the airline is responsible for providing a safe passage to the restroom and to the exit. The airline may also be liable for injuries caused by overloading of the aircraft. The pilot in command is responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft. They must be familiarized with all available information about the flight. That includes the anticipated weather forecasts and conditions.

The ground personnel also share some responsibility for the safe conduct of the aircraft. This includes proper inspection to establish that the airplane is in safe working condition. The airline cannot rely on government inspection of its planes. However, the airline may not be held accountable for defects in the aircraft that could not be discovered by reasonable inspection.

An airline's duty does not extend beyond the passenger's disembarking from the aircraft. A carrier may also not be liable for consequences from an inevitable accident or a so-called act of God. If an accident is caused by unforeseen events and not by human error, recovery from the airline will not be possible. For instance, unpredictable storms may be deemed acts of God.

The pilot cannot always anticipate turbulence. But they have a duty to check the weather conditions for the designated flight path. If high amounts of turbulence are expected, airline employees may be required to alter or delay the flight.

Other Potentially Responsible Parties

The airline may not be the only entity liable to passengers for injuries sustained in flight. Under a product liability claim, others may be liable for defects that cause a malfunction of the aircraft. That includes the manufacturer, seller, and repairer of the aircraft and its equipment. In addition, the air traffic controller owes a duty of care to passengers. They may be held responsible if they see a dangerous situation and fail to properly warn the pilot.

Small-aircraft passengers may also be awarded monetary relief from injuries sustained on an airplane. A private carrier is not held to the same high standard of care as a large airline. But the carrier still has a duty to exercise caution and behave reasonably under the circumstances. Even guests on a private aircraft may recover from the owner or pilot of the craft.

If you are partially at fault for an airplane injury you sustained, your recovery may be reduced or limited through the doctrine of contributory negligence. For example, if you fell down an airplane aisle as a result of neglecting to wear prescription glasses, you may be partially at fault. Still, the airline and its flight crew members may share responsibility. This is especially true if an airline failed to take reasonable steps to keep the aisles clear of obstacles.

Get a Legal Case Review From an Accident Attorney

Travelers should know what to do in case they are injured on a flight. Legal claims involving aviation require an understanding of aircraft function and safety. You'll need someone who knows Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations, plus specific rules related to aviation litigation. If you have suffered an in-flight aviation injury, talk to a personal injury attorney.

Many accident lawyers provide free case evaluations for aviation accidents. Personal injury cases involve potentially large insurance settlements, so law offices may work with you on contingency. This means you won't have to pay them upfront to handle your personal injury claim. Instead, they will take out a percentage of your award if they obtain a settlement or verdict for your case.

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