Are Personal Injuries On Airplanes Different Than Those On Land?

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “What can you sue for in a personal injury case?”


United Airlines has been having a bad run of things recently. It started with the young girls denied boarding for wearing leggings, then reached a peak frenzy after dragging a paid passenger off a flight in Chicago. That incident led to a personal injury lawsuit and was quickly settled, United smartly realizing it didn’t need the bad publicity to continue another moment. After resolving that recent debacle, United appears to have stumbled into yet another personal injury issue, this time involving a rough landing.


Airplane-Charlotte-Injury-Lawyer-300x271Two women recently filed suit against the airline claiming that they suffered serious injuries after a flight back in 2015. The two say that they were traveling on a United flight from Portland to Chicago when their plane made a sudden, hard landing at O’Hare Airport. The landing was so rough that the women were thrown into the seat backs in front of them.


The lawsuit explains that the rough landing caused them both mental and physical injuries. These injuries include damage to their muscles and nerves, neck and back pain, numbness and headaches. According to the women, United is to blame due to failure to approach the runway at the right speed or altitude, for failing to avoid the rough landing and for failing to warn passengers to brace for the landing.
The case raises questions about what happens when passengers are injured on airplanes and who is responsible when those injuries occur. First, let’s start by saying that injuries are, unfortunately, not uncommon events. Given the millions of passengers flown each year, it’s inevitable that some get hurt in the process. Though you’d think turbulence is a major cause of injury, it’s not the biggest. Far more common are injuries due to falling luggage, which can lead to serious head and neck trauma. Passengers are also injured due to runaway drink carts, hurt while in the bathroom and, obviously, injured due to bumpy rides.


If a passenger is injured and files suit, what is it that they need to show? The most common basis for such a suit would be negligence. That means the passenger would need to show that a reasonable person in the defendant’s situation would not have acted in the same way, proving the defendant wasn’t properly cautious.


Airlines are subject to an even greater standard of scrutiny than normal because they are known as common carriers. As a result, they have a higher duty of care as they transport the public for a fee. The law says that common carriers must act with a high degree of care and are held to the standard of a cautious person when it come to protecting passengers from harm. This duty applies to all employees of the airline, including pilots, flight attendants and even ground crew.


So does this mean that all injuries that occur on board a plane are slam-dunk wins? Not so fast. Though airlines may be held to a high standard of care, this doesn’t mean they’re liable for all harm that occurs. One major exception is that airlines are not responsible for harm that occurs due to acts of god. Acts of god include any incidents that cannot be prevented, no matter how careful the airline is. Turbulence is a great example of an act of god, something the airline cannot control no matter how skilled its pilots are.


That said, airlines can sometimes be held responsible for injuries that might at first glance appear to be an act of god. For instance, if turbulence occurs, but the airline was aware it might happen and failed to take steps to mitigate harm, like changing altitude or warning passengers, then they could be held legally liable due to negligence. In the end, injuries in airplanes are much like those on the ground and liability all boils down to the specific facts of the case.


If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.


About the Author

Matt Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, personal injury and wrongful death claims.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.





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