Can you make a recovery if you are injured on an airplane?

Many of us are terrified of flying on an airplane.  The fear of an airplane crashing, however, is grossly misplaced.  The odds of being killed in a car accident are 1 in 5,000 and the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11,000,000.  But this article is not about dying in a plane crash.  In fact, a plane crashes every 1.2 million flights.  This article is about all the other ways you can be injured on an airplane and making a recovery.


Many of these instances come from actual cases we have handled.  Afterall, O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world.  Putting aside the issue of workers injured on the job at O’Hare and Midway (which we have represented countless of them), there are four main types of injuries which occur on airplanes.


Pre-Flight Injuries

An airline must be free from negligence when handling passengers before boarding the plane.  This means they must be sure their gates are kept free of trip hazards.  Likewise, an airline must ensure they are careful when using wheelchairs or assisting other passengers while boarding the plane.  We received a six figure settlement for a woman who was thrown from her wheelchair due to the negligence of the airline employee wheeling her through the airport.  Similarly, we recovered for a many who was run over by the motorized cart used to carry people between gates.  An airline must use reasonable care in these circumstances.


In Flight Injuries

Once a passenger boards the plane, however, the legal standard changes.  An airplane is considered a “common carrier,” just as a bus or a train.  A common carrier owes the highest duty of care while transporting an individual for profit.  While an airline does not ensure the absolute safety of the passenger, the heightened duty of care makes a significant difference.


So what kind of injuries can happen on an airplane?  The number one injury is caused by flight attendant negligence.  Whether it is dropping something on a passenger or hitting them with the beverage cart or general inattentiveness, flight attendant negligence is the biggest cause of being injured on an airplane.


Another source of in flight injuries comes from falling luggage.  Why do you think they warn, “please be careful of overhead bins because luggage may have shifted during flight?”  Falling luggage causes many injuries each year.  These are tougher cases to prove the airline is liable, even with the highest duty of care.  Usually, passengers pack their own luggage in the overhead compartments.  Second, the airlines typically do warn passengers about this danger.  So, these tend to be tough cases.  About 4,500 injuries per year result from falling luggage.


The third source of in flight injuries is from turbulence.  We have all been on some “rough” flights.  Whether mid-flight or landing, anyone who has flown frequently has experienced some white knuckle flights.  Despite this, most people don’t actually experience injury.  In fact, only 58 people per year on average experience injuries from turbulence according to the FAA.  But, injuries from turbulence can be recoverable.  There are many things a pilot and the airline can do to prevent being injured on an airplane.  Under the highest duty of care, an injury from turbulence should not happen.  The fact that only 58 people a year are injured is testament that airlines do a good job at avoiding injuries from turbulence.  Once again, we would not handle a lawsuit simply for the terror resulting from turbulence, but if it rose to the level of physical injury, we would likely prevail in the case.


Other Airline Claims

In addition to negligence claims against the airline and its employees, there may be other potential claims.  There may be a product liability claim for a negligently designed aspect of the airplane.  There may be a potential claim against the air traffic controllers should a mishap occur between two planes. As personal injury lawyers, when a client contacts who has been injured as the result of air travel, it is our job to determine who may be responsible for our client’s injuries.


Finally, the FAA maintains a hotline for reporting travel problems, concerns, and complaints, including safety issues. The toll-free number is 866-835-5322.  The FAA takes travel safety very seriously.  The fact that there are so few airline crashes shows how effective they can be.  But, accidents do happen and people do get hurt, and those who cause it should be held responsible.

We at McCready, Garcia & Leet have successfully resolved many of these cases, and we offer free consultations. If you’d like to talk, simply call us at (773) 779-9885.