If you are an international traveler then the airline’s liability is controlled entirely by international treaties. The treaties are known as the Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Convention.
Under the Montreal Convention, whether the airline was negligent or not is for the most part irrelevant. All that matters is whether you were injured by an “accident". The U.S. Supreme Court has defined “accident" to mean “an unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger."
This means that on international flights, the passenger does not have to prove negligence; the Montreal Convention holds that the airline has a responsibility to passengers because they are in the airline’s custody and care. The Montreal Convention entitles passengers to be compensated for the emotional distress they have suffered, but only if they also suffered some sort of physical injury as well.
If you are a domestic traveler you may hold the airline liable if your injuries are caused by the airline’s negligence. In other words, the airline is not responsible unless it was careless. But if your itinerary includes a stop in a foreign country, even if you are currently on the domestic portion of their trip, then the rules that apply to international travelers apply.
At the firm of Jaroslawicz and Jaros we have successfully handled many different types of cases involving passengers injured either while boarding a plane or while traveling on an airplane.
Embarking and disembarking: Many injuries are sustained by passengers while embarking or disembarking an aircraft and for international travelers the provisions of the Warsaw Convention governing airline carrier liability apply for such injuries. Domestic travelers will need to show that their injuries were caused by the airline’s carelessness or negligence. For example if there was a foreign substance that caused you to slip and fall, such as oil or grease on the walkway, or a water leak that formed ice or a slippery condition and so forth.
Falling Baggage: Airline passengers also suffer injuries caused by baggage falling from overhead bins. The passenger in the aisle seat is the one most often injured by baggage falling from an overhead bin. These injuries can be very serious and can even include a traumatic brain injury.
If baggage falls and injures a passenger who is travelling internationally, then the Montreal Convention or Warsaw Conventions apply. The conventions are international treaties that make the airlines automatically liable for any injury to the passenger that resulted from an “accident." An “accident" is defined as an unusual or unexpected event that is external to the passenger and being injured by falling baggage may well qualify.
If the passenger was injured on a domestic flight then they must prove that the airline was negligent before the airline can be held liable. For example, the passenger must prove that a flight attendant was careless in opening a baggage compartment and allowing the object to fall out. Or, the passenger must prove that the bag fell out when a fellow passenger opened the compartment because a flight attendant stowed the bag improperly.
Turbulence: Bumpy rides can cause unbelted passengers to be thrown from their seats. While an airline is not liable for accidents that occur due to “acts of god," that is, unforeseen events of nature that cannot be prevented, airlines cannot always hide behind the “act of god" defense when passengers are injured in turbulence. For example, on domestic flights if the flight crew was able to foresee the turbulence (and often they can), but failed to warn passengers to fasten their seat belts or otherwise take precautions to protect passengers from injury, the airline might be liable for passenger injuries. Similarly on a domestic flight, if the pilot should have been able to predict the turbulence, but failed to do so due to lack of vigilance, the airline could be held responsible for injuries caused by the turbulence.
Food carts: Another common cause of injury is rolling food carts. Carts can injure seated passengers when rolling by, ramming shoulders legs or other body parts, or can hit passengers that are moving about the cabin.
Special needs passengers: Passengers with special needs or handicaps require assistance going to and from their planes and also while boarding and disembarking. Injuries have occurred in many ways including by collapsing or defective wheelchairs and the negligent assistance or improper handling by ground personnel while transferring to or from the wheelchair.
If you or a loved one were injured and are in need of legal assistance as a result of an injury suffered from an accident going to or from or on an airplane, then call Jaroslawicz & Jaros at 212.227.2780, or toll free in New York 800.269.2780, or submit an online questionnaire. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to handle your case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary recovery of funds. In many cases, a lawsuit must be filed before an applicable expiration date, known as a statute of limitations. Please call to ensure that you do not waive your right to compensation. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.