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In-flight injuries happen quite often. While the nature of these injuries generally tend to be minor, there are cases where severe injuries and even death have occurred. While turbulence causes a great deal of the reported injuries, injuries have also been reported from baggage falling from overhead bins, improper housekeeping of the aircraft, and encounters with moving food carts. Determining who will be held accountable from the injuries incurred from these accidents can vary from situation to situation.
Sometimes injuries are caused by negligence. Negligence is defined as failure to take proper or reasonable care in doing something, resulting in damage or injury to another. Any industry can demonstrate negligence upon its customers. In the aviation industry, the airline can be held liable for negligence, as well as any employee of that airline. If the airline fails to maintain proper upkeep on the aircraft and a passenger is injured in result (for example a passenger trips and falls on a fraying piece of carpet that was not properly maintained), the airline can be held liable for the negligence of keeping those items repaired.
Negligence can be seen not only demonstrated by the airline, but also by the FAA. Accidents and injury occur in result of an error that was made by an air traffic controller. Negligence claims can be filed against the FAA and they can be held liable for negligent actions. There are special items that should be taken into consideration when determining if the FAA is at fault for the injury that was sustained.
An Act of God is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods, lightning strikes, or other natural causes that could have not been prevented by caution, and for which no one can be held responsible. However, even when dealing with situations that fall under “Acts of God”, if foreseeable results of unforeseeable causes could have been predicted, but were ignored, the company may still be found liable. Turbulence may be considered an Act of God, however, in situations where the airlines could have foreseen events and alerted the passengers to take their seats and buckle their seat belts, the airline can be held responsible for not exercising proper caution.
Product liability claims will fall into categories that cover manufacturer mistake/defect, dangerous product design, and failure to provide adequate warning about a defective product. In these cases, if the injury was caused because of a defective product, the manufacturer of the component will be held liable-not the airline. A faulty design of an overhead bin lock that caused luggage to fall and injure a passenger would be an example of product liability where the manufacturer would be held liable. (As long as it was properly maintained and secured by the airline employee)
While the list of in-flight injuries may be long and consistently growing, the liable party will likely fall into one or more of the above categories.