Injured In an Airplane? What Can You Do?
If you suffered injuries or a loved one died in an airplane accident, you may receive significant financial compensation. But obtaining money for your losses might require a more complicated process than claiming payment for, say, a car accident or a slip and fall.
Complex laws and regulations govern securing compensation for injuries people suffer on airplanes. To get the money you deserve, your best bet is to hire an experienced airplane injury attorney to handle your claim.
Causes of Injuries in Airplanes
Air travel is often viewed as the safest mode of transportation. Unfortunately, accidents can occur in even the most controlled and regulated environments, including on airplanes. Here’s a breakdown of some potential causes of injuries to airplane passengers.
Injuries Due to Turbulence
Turbulence injuries are among the most common types of in-flight injuries. Any turbulence, especially if it’s deemed moderate, severe, or extreme, can cause severe injuries, such as whiplash, spinal trauma, or head injuries. For instance, in 2016, severe turbulence on a flight from Miami to Milan left seven passengers hospitalized.
Pilots cannot always avoid turbulence, even with modern forecasting techniques. Turbulence-related injuries often occur when passengers do not have their seatbelts fastened. A passenger injured in a turbulence event may need a reasonable explanation for not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident.
Injuries from Falling Luggage
Overhead bins are a helpful convenience in air travel, but they can also be a source of airplane passenger injury. When not securely stowed, luggage can fall during boarding, disembarkment, takeoff, landing, or turbulence, leading to severe head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
Improperly or overly filled overhead bins add to this risk. When bins are crammed with heavy items or not securely closed, the likelihood of baggage falling out and causing injuries increases. Despite airlines’ recommendations and regulations about the weight and size of carry-on luggage, passengers and airline crew often disregard or fail to strictly enforce the rules, putting everyone in an airplane cabin at risk of injury.
Injuries Due to Passenger Misbehavior
Passenger misbehavior on an airplane can lead to unexpected injuries. Physical altercations, unruly behavior, or even accidental trips and falls caused by another passenger can result in significant injuries.
In particular, alcohol consumption onboard an airplane can often lead to unpredictable and harmful misconduct. Excessive drinking might result in passengers becoming rowdy, disruptive, or even physically violent. Although the control of alcohol consumption onboard lies largely within the airline crew’s discretion, passengers themselves also have a responsibility to consume responsibly and moderate their behavior.
Injuries Due to Emergency Landings
Another potential cause of airplane injuries is emergency landings. In instances where planes have to make unscheduled or forced landings due to technical issues, bad weather, or onboard emergencies, passengers might sustain injuries. These can range from minor cuts, bruises, or sprains, to more serious trauma like fractures or concussions.
Factors contributing to injuries during emergency landing incidents can include sudden deceleration, rough landing, or the need for rapid evacuation of the aircraft.
Sickness from Airplane Environment or Food
The airplane environment itself can sometimes cause passengers to fall ill. Recycled air can spread airborne diseases, for example. Food and drinks served in-flight can cause illness. Food hygiene, for instance, can sometimes be questionable and lead to food poisoning.
Air travel may also aggravate passengers’ pre-existing medical conditions. The change in air pressure in-flight can affect those with respiratory issues, while extended periods of immobility can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in certain individuals.
In addition, the stress and anxiety associated with flying can exacerbate mental health conditions like claustrophobia or panic disorder. Passengers may owe a duty to others to alert airlines of these potential risks before flying, and airlines may have a duty to restrict or monitor them to ensure the safety of everyone aboard.
Falls Getting On or Off an Airplane
Boarding and disembarking from an airplane can be risky, especially for older passengers or those with physical disabilities. Slips and falls can result in bone fractures, sprains, or, in severe cases, head injuries. An additional risk factor during boarding and disembarking is stair usage.
Some smaller airlines or airports use mobile stair units instead of jet bridges to connect the plane to the terminal. These stairs can be steep and narrow, and poor weather conditions can make them slippery, increasing injury risk. It’s the airline’s responsibility to ensure all passengers can safely board and disembark the aircraft.
Airplane Crash Injuries and Fatalities
Although extremely rare, airplane crashes can result in the most devastating injuries or fatalities. Most crashes have preventable causes, including pilot or other human error and airplane systems malfunction.
Other factors contributing to airplane crashes can include adverse weather conditions, bird strikes, or even issues related to the runway, like inadequate lighting or obstructions. Crashes may not only lead to physical injuries but also psychological traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor guilt, or fear of flying.
Legal Rights of Passengers Injured on an Airplane
As the victim of an injury in an airplane, you may receive significant financial compensation, including payment for medical and other injury-related expenses, loss of income, physical pain, emotional suffering, and diminished quality of life. The specific damages owed to you, and the parties who owe it, can depend on factors including the origin and destination of the flight and the circumstances of your injury.
The General Responsibility of Airlines Towards Passenger Safety
Airlines are considered common carriers in the eyes of the law, which means they have a legal responsibility to provide a high degree of care for their passengers. This duty of care encompasses everything from providing safe transport and maintaining the aircraft to managing the crew’s behavior and ensuring the proper storage of luggage. Airlines’ responsibilities to you take effect the moment you board the aircraft and last until you disembark.
If an airline fails to fulfill its duty and you suffer an injury, you can typically hold the airline liable for at least some of your damages. But as discussed below, the nature and scope of that liability can depend on whether your injury occurred on a domestic or international flight.
Domestic Flights: Passenger Rights Against an Airline
In general, an airline is liable to you for injuries you suffered on a domestic U.S. flight if its negligence played a role in causing them. For example, an airline might owe you damages for injuries you sustained in a fall after the pilot engaged the plane’s brakes too aggressively.
Similarly, if you fell ill from eating an in-flight meal, the airline could be liable if evidence proves airline staff failed to handle or store the food properly. Likewise, an airline could face liability if its personnel failed to intervene in passenger misbehavior.
International Flights: Passenger Rights Under the Montreal Convention
For injuries sustained on international flights, a treaty called the Montreal Convention 1999 (MC99) provides a framework for passenger rights. Under the Convention, airlines bear responsibility for most passenger injuries or deaths that occur during flight, regardless of the airline’s negligence. The Convention, however, sets a limit on the amount of damages a passenger can recover for injuries or death unless the passenger or their loved ones can prove that the airline engaged in reckless behavior that contributed to the injuries.
Liability of Other Parties for Airplane Injuries
Though airlines bear the primary responsibility for passenger safety, there are situations where other parties may bear liability for the injuries you suffered in a plane.
These could include, for example:
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), if the negligence of its employees in supervising air traffic led to an injury
- An airplane manufacturer for the role the defective design or manufacturing of an aircraft played in an injury.
- Airport authorities or ground crew members at fault for safety lapses leading to passenger harm.
- Fellow passengers whose misconduct caused an injury.
These are just a few examples. Only a thorough investigation of your injury by an experienced airplane injury lawyer can reliably identify all parties who may owe you damages after you get hurt on a plane.
Enforcing Your Legal Rights by Hiring an Experienced Airplane Injury Lawyer
Securing compensation for an airplane injury involves careful investigation, skilled negotiation, and, sometimes, proactive litigation. An experienced lawyer can handle those tasks on your behalf to ensure you receive as much compensation as possible for your losses.
The specific steps a lawyer takes to secure compensation for your airplane injury can vary depending on the circumstances but may include:
- Conducting an independent investigation of your injury, its causes, and the parties potentially liable for it.
- Coordinating with and representing your interests in official investigations, such as those conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), when applicable.
- Collecting and analyzing all relevant documents and evidence, including medical records, accounts of eyewitnesses, and flight reports, to construct a winning case on your behalf.
- Answering your questions and advising you about your legal options.
- Consulting with experts in the aviation and medical fields to obtain opinions to bolster your claim for compensation.
- Serving as your representative in dealings with the press if the events causing your injury attracted media attention.
- Preparing, filing, and litigating insurance claims and lawsuits seeking compensation on your behalf.
- Negotiating with insurance companies and liable parties to secure a fair settlement of your claim.
- Representing your interests in court, including by presenting a compelling case to a judge or jury at trial.
- Engaging in post-trial enforcement actions to ensure you receive the money owed to you.
Hiring an experienced attorney to handle your personal injury claim is affordable. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations so that you can learn about your rights and options risk-free. They also routinely represent their clients on contingency, meaning they charge nothing upfront or as the case progresses and only receive a fee if they win your case.
Follow Your Doctor’s Orders and Take Care of Yourself
Make your health your primary concern after an airplane injury. Ensure you seek immediate medical attention, even if you think your injury is minor. Some injuries may not manifest symptoms immediately, and a comprehensive medical evaluation is crucial for your health and your potential legal claim.
Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. An insurance company or court could interpret non-compliance with medical advice as evidence that your injuries were not severe, which could diminish your compensation.
Talk to a Lawyer Before Accepting In-Kind Payments from Airlines or Quick Settlements from Insurers
After an airplane injury, airlines or their insurers may rush to offer you a quick settlement or in-kind services, such as vouchers for future flights, to resolve your claim. While these offers might seem appealing, accepting them could limit your ability to seek complete legal compensation later. Connect with an experienced airplane injury attorney before accepting any offer from an airline or insurance company.
Do Not Post to Social Media About Your Injury
Avoid discussing your injury on social media platforms. Insurance companies may monitor your accounts for posts that they can use to challenge your claim. For instance, a post about participating in a physical activity soon after claiming severe injuries could be used against you.
Hire a Lawyer as Soon as Possible
Timely legal assistance is crucial in an airplane injury claim. Specific deadlines, known as statutes of limitations, may bar you from filing a lawsuit if you wait too long. Additionally, the sooner you hire an attorney, the better their chances of protecting your interests and gathering crucial evidence to support your claim.
Contact an Experienced Airplane Injury Lawyer Today
You have valuable legal rights to compensation after getting hurt in an airplane. The most reliable way to enforce them is to hire an experienced airplane injury lawyer to handle your claim. To learn more about your rights and options, contact a personal injury law firm today for a free case consultation.