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When is an Airline Liable for Injuries Caused by Medical Emergency Response and Decisions?

When you are strapped into a metal tube speeding through the air at 40,000 feet above the ground, one of the worst things you can hear is an announcement made inquiring if there is a doctor onboard. Inevitably, this means that one of your fellow passengers is experiencing medical difficulties.

Airlines have very strict policies, procedures, and training focused on how to deal with inflight medical emergencies. A large majority of flight attendant training focuses on handling medical emergencies, and there is an abundance of medical equipment and medications onboard to handle just such an emergency. While some medical supplies are only able to be opened and used by a licensed medical professional, there are still several tools onboard that flight attendants are able to use to handle the most common medical needs.

Fortunately, most onboard emergencies end with little fanfare. The aircraft may divert, and in the meantime pilots and flight attendants are able to connect with medical professionals on the ground for extra help. Every resource possible is used to figure out when and where to land, and for the most part, the system works well.

What happens, however, when onboard medical attention and efforts on the ground still end in a passenger suffering a severe illness or injury? Much of that will rely on the intended destination of your aircraft.

A Stroke on Caribbean Airlines: Was the Flight Crew Responsible for a Passenger’s Injuries?

A recent case involving a 2011 flight on Caribbean Airlines examined the liability of an airline in onboard medical emergencies. On a 4 hour flight from Trinidad and Tobago to Miami, a male passenger suffered a stroke, the effects of which would leave him permanently disabled. His family sued Caribbean Airlines, claiming that the extent of his injuries would have been lessened if the flight crew had diverted to Nassau, Bahamas.

Making a decision based on a medical professional on the ground, as well as the requests of the passenger’s family, the flight crew determined that for only a few added minutes of flight time, continuing to Miami was the best option. The lawsuit claimed that this decision constituted an accident, which the Montreal Convention defines as an unexpected or unusual event. A judge disagreed, saying that the crew’s actions did not justify such a claim, and that Caribbean Airlines was not liable.

The Montreal Convention governs international air travel, which generally places a much greater burden of responsibility on airlines for passenger safety. On domestic flights, injuries must be the direct result of airline negligence. The Montreal Convention typically looks at accidents as unexpected events external to the passenger, and in this particular case, flight crew decisions were not deemed unusual or unexpected.

If You Have Suffered an Injury as the Result of an Onboard Accident, Contact an Attorney Today

Whether you were injured on an international or domestic flight, getting the compensation that you deserve from an airline can be an uphill battle. You will need an experienced, aggressive aviation attorney to strengthen your case against the airlines—to schedule your free consultation with Curry, Pearson & Wooten, call their Phoenix law office today.


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