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Can I Sue for Airplane Turbulence and In-Flight Injuries?

Published in Airplane Accident on April 30, 2017.

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Every year, thousands of airline passengers suffer various forms of injuries while en route to their destinations. The most common injuries include slips and falls in the airplane aisles, bumps from falling luggage or beverage carts, and other injuries from plane turbulence. Injured people in these situations may be wondering if they have any options for legal action against the airline, its staff, or even the FAA.

Depending on the nature of the injury and how it came about, an injured passenger may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party. However, it is important to recognize that the law doesn’t consider turbulence as a foreseeable event, and the airplane’s instruments can’t always anticipate it. While turbulence itself may not be at fault for the accident, another party’s negligence could be.

Claims for Negligence

Most personal injury lawsuits hinge on the concept of negligence. To demonstrate negligence, a plaintiff will have to prove three basic facts to the court:

  • The defendant (the party being sued) had a duty to act with reasonable care. For example, airline maintenance employees must ensure planes are fit for service before every departure.
  • The defendant breached this duty of care in some way. This could be by a direct action or in some cases, inaction. Following the previous example, a ground crew member failing to perform a necessary safety check could be held liable if the check would have uncovered an injury-causing defect or problem.
  • The plaintiff (the person or party filing the lawsuit) suffered injuries and damages as a direct result of the defendant’s breach of duty.

The law recognizes airlines as “common carriers,” or transportation services agencies provide for a fee. As such, common carriers are held to a higher duty of care and expected to take every possible precaution to prevent injuries and damages to passengers.

Acts of Nature

No one can hold airlines accountable for unforeseeable weather events. In some cases, pilots may be able to anticipate turbulence and will warn passengers ahead of time to return to their seats and fasten their safety belts. If turbulence rocks the plane and causes injury to a passenger, the injured person may have a lawsuit if the turbulence was foreseeable or the pilot did not adequately warn passengers to buckle their safety belts.

Additionally, if the turbulence was foreseeable but the pilot did not take action due to inattention or carelessness, the airline will more than likely be liable for any resulting lawsuits.

Product Liability

In some cases, a faulty part or device in the airplane could cause injury. For example, defective overhead storage bins or safety belts could potentially injure passengers. Additionally, an entire aircraft may have been improperly manufactured. In these situations, injured plaintiffs would need to file product liability claims against the manufacturer. Products can be defective in three general ways:

  • Defective by design. There is a flaw in the design of the product, making every unit unfit for use.
  • Defective manufacturing. There was a problem during the manufacturing or assembly process. Defects of this sort typically only affect certain units or production lots, and manufacturers will recall affected units once someone has positively identified a defect.
  • Defective marketing. The manufacturer did not faithfully advertise or represent the product, or the manufacturer did not provide adequate instructions for use or warn against possible risks of normal use of the product.

If you find yourself embroiled in a legal battle with an airline, you’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to navigate your case. Product liability cases function differently, and if you must sue the FAA, there are special procedures for filing a lawsuit against a federal agency.


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