In-Flight Injuries: Determining negligence

Turbulence and accidents make injury in-flight a real possibility. The Federal Aviation Administration found that an average of 58 people are injured in airplanes every year just from turbulence. There are also people who suffer injuries from:

  • Baggage falling on them
  • Slips and falls while walking

A passenger ordering a hot beverage may also suffer from injuries if a stewardess spills the drink on the passenger. Mishaps can and do occur in-flight, and passengers can make legal claims against:

  • Manufacturers
  • Employees
  • Airlines

Airlines are known for causing the following injuries:

  • Falling Baggage: Accidents involving falling baggage occur over 4,000 times per year, according to some estimates.
  • Food Carts: Accidents attributed to food carts on an airplane are far more common than people assume. Rolling food carts can hit passenger: shoulders, legs, head or other body parts.
  • Falls: Trip and fall accidents can occur anywhere, and this is much easier when an airplane hits turbulence or the passenger is trying to move around the cabin mid-flight.

Turbulence-related injuries are often a result of the passenger's own negligence from not buckling his or her seatbelt. Individuals involved in these types of accidents are often thrown from their seat.

Negligence factors into fault
Personal injury victims, whether caused in a plane, boat or car accident, must be able to prove negligence when a legal claim is made. The plaintiff will need to prove that the carelessness of the individual, whether it be a pilot, ground crew member or any airline worker.

Negligence-based claims must be able to prove negligence of a party or parties that led to the injury occurring.

An example of this may include a flight attendant. If the flight attendant left a cart in the middle of the aisle, and a passenger stood up and the cart flew into him or her and caused injuries, this would be a clear act of negligence. The employee had the duty to make sure you, the passenger, was reasonably safe by taking actions such as locking the wheels on the cart or placing the cart in a secure area to prevent the injury from occurring.

But the airline may also be negligent in this case. Perhaps the airline failed to:

  • Provide the employee with proper training
  • Provide a detailed policy to protect passengers

Duty of care
Airlines have a certain level of care that passengers expect when they buy a ticket. Airlines are, by law, under a heightened duty of care. The classification as a "common carrier" dictates that an airline must act with a high level of care to reduce the risks of injuries.

Employees are required to meet this heightened level of care, too. You, as a passenger, can expect an airline to:

  • Properly train employees
  • Maintain their aircraft
  • Offer adequate safety equipment

If an airline fails to maintain their craft and a motor fails mid-flight as a result, they can be held liable for the injuries of passengers onboard the plane.

"Acts of god" are not the responsibility of the airline, and this falls into the category of anything in nature that's not able to be prevented. Turbulence is a prime example of an act of god because it's not able to be anticipated with precision.

Employees, however, should act swiftly to alert passengers of the proper safety measures to take.

Failure to act appropriately may result in the airline being found negligent in their care. An example of this scenario is hitting turbulence. If an airline hits turbulence and an audio alert told passengers to buckle their seatbelts and remain seated but one passenger didn't listen and was hurt, the airline will not be liable.

If the airline waited several minutes to announce safety recommendations, they may be held liable. Product or equipment failure and even claims against the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) can be made.

Related resources
Turbulence risks to airline passengers
Overhead luggage risks

In-Flight Injuries: Determining Negligence -- 1 June 2017