When Is Your Airline Responsible For Injuries Incurred During Flight?

It's rare that passengers on commercial airlines sustain significant injuries, but it does happen. Here are some of the common issues that can cause you harm and what you can do legally about them.

Injuries From Turbulence

The "fasten seat belts sign" has been turned off and you're striding down the aisle to stretch your legs or use the restroom. The plane starts to bump up and down -- slowly at first, then more. The captain quickly asks everyone to return to his or her seat. But before you can move, the plane takes a giant leap. You fall and sustain an injury. Is the airline at fault? 

Turbulence, or unexpected air movement during a flight, can happen without warning. Every year, about 58 people are injured by turbulence when they're not wearing seat belts. If you're injured by turbulence, you almost never will have a case against your airline. Turbulence is considered an "act of god," or something in nature that could not be predicted. You might try to make a case if the crew did not warn passengers or turn the fasten seat belt sign on, but suspected there could be weather that would cause turbulence in the area.

Injuries from Falling Luggage

There's a reason that airlines warn you that "Items in the overhead bins may have shifted in flight." The airlines don't want you to be hit by anything, and they warn you to be cautious when you're opening the storage compartments above the seats. Nonetheless, every year, about 4,500 passengers in the U.S. suffer from some sort of injury caused by falling items. Most of these are bruises or small cuts that happen to passengers seated on the aisle.

You may have a case against the airline if the falling bag or item was caused by a flight attendant or other airline employee. For example, if the flight attendant opens the bin and something falls and hits you, you might be able to recoup some damages. Or, if you can prove that a flight attendant put something into the compartment incorrectly, causing it to fall out later, and should have known better, you might be able to take legal action. You'll need witness statements or an admission of guilt from the airline in order to have much chance of collecting compensation.

Other Injuries

You might get hit by the in-flight beverage cart, or hurt by another passenger who gets upset. In most cases, though, the airline is not liable for any damages unless you can prove that employees deliberately acted negligently.

If you feel you might have a case, talk to an attorney who specializes in personal injury claims like Smith, Dickey, Dempster. Most will consult with you for free and let you know whether your case is worth pursuing.