Although air travel is relatively safe when compared to travel by automobile or train, injuries in flight do occasionally occur. Injuries may be as minor as a twisted ankle suffered in attempting to reach the bathroom, or as severe as serious head injuries during air turbulence. Anyone who has been injured during a plane trip should be aware of his or her potential rights. Sometimes the airline or its employees can be held responsible, but a victim must sort through complicated legal rules to determine whether they can recover monetary relief, and against whom.
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. Although an airline is not an insurer of a passenger's safety, it is responsible for even the slightest negligence on the part of its employees, and is required to do all that is reasonable under the circumstances to prevent injuries from happening. However, an injury in and of itself is not enough to conclude that the airline was negligent. There must be some minimum showing that the airline was at fault.
The Duty of a "Common Carrier" and its Employees
An airline or common carrier must exercise vigilance in all aspects of aviation, including operation, maintenance, inspection, loading, and boarding of the plane. 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 due to overloading of the aircraft. Further, the pilot in command is the sole authority responsible for safe operation of the aircraft, and is required to familiarize him or herself with all available information regarding the flight, including the weather conditions en route.
The ground personnel are also responsible for the safe conduct of the aircraft, including proper inspection to establish that the airplane is in safe working condition. The airline cannot rely upon government inspection of its planes. However, the airline cannot be held accountable for unusual defects in the aircraft that could not be discovered by inspection.
An airline's duty does not extend beyond the passenger's disembarking from the aircraft. In addition, a carrier may not be liable for consequences from an inevitable accident or an act of God. If an accident is caused not by human error but by unforeseen events, recovery from the airline will not be possible. For example, turbulence may not always be possible to anticipate. However, the pilot does have a duty to check the weather conditions for the designated flight path, as mentioned above. 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. The manufacturer, seller, or repairer of the aircraft or its equipment may be liable for defects that cause a malfunction of the aircraft. In addition, the air traffic controller owes a duty of care to passengers with respect to the operation of an air traffic control system, and may be held responsible if they see a dangerous situation and fail to properly warn the pilot.
In addition to passengers on commercial carriers, small aircraft passengers may also be awarded monetary relief from injuries sustained on an airplane. Although a private carrier is not held to the same high standard of care as a large airline, the private carrier still has a duty to exercise caution. Even guests on a private aircraft can recover from the owner or pilot of an aircraft under certain circumstances.
Get a Legal Case Review
Because air travel is so common these days, it's important for individuals to know what to do in case they are injured on a flight. Any legal claim involving aviation requires a detailed understanding of aircraft function and safety, FAA rules and regulations, and specific rules related to aviation litigation. If you have suffered injury due to an in-flight aviation injury, it's in your best interests to have an attorney provide a claim evaluation.
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.