Our office frequently reviews claims for injuries received on airline flights, private planes and helicopters. Air travel—far from the romantic images of the past—exposes families and business people to the hazards of an industry constantly cutting corners with safety and training.
Stories of passengers injured by harsh or careless actions surface nearly daily. While commercial air travel is generally safer than car, few studies exist tracking passenger injuries during flights. One study found that objects falling from overhead compartments alone caused approximately 4,500 injuries a year.
Passengers’ rights frequently depend on the facts of the incident.
In 1999, the Montreal Convention modernized international laws on compensating passengers injured by airlines. The Montreal Convention provides two different levels in proving damages. For claims up to a set amount of averaged world currencies (currently about $156,000), airlines are “strictly liable” for harm caused by an accident on board the aircraft or in the process of embarking or disembarking. For claims that exceed this value, the airline can avoid liability by proving it was not negligent or that it was the negligence of a different party that caused the claimed injury. Additionally, an injured person can, within two years, file a claim for compensation where he or she resides, rather than that of the airline’s corporate headquarters.
Unlike international flights, domestic incidents are controlled under FAA regulations or by more traditional laws that cover “common carriers” for the jurisdiction that applies to the flight or the airline. Common carriers, such as buses or airlines, must exercise the highest level of care in preventing harm. Additionally, claims may be subject to federal laws (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act) or contract law. The time to bring claims may vary based on the controlling jurisdiction.
Since an injured person’s rights depend not only on the facts of the incident and the type of flight, but also the laws of different jurisdictions, experienced legal advice helps provide the information necessary for good decisions.