What Are My Rights If I Am Injured While Boarding Or Disembarking An Airplane?

Written by
Abraham Jaros
Updated on Saturday, Oct 21, 2023

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 is, for the most part, irrelevant. All that matters is whether you were injured in 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."

For International Travelers

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.

For Domestic Travelers

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 the trip, then the rules that apply to international travelers apply.

At the firm of Jaroslawicz and Jaros, we have successfully handled many types of cases involving passengers injured either while boarding a plane or while traveling on an airplane.

Embarking and disembarking: Many passengers suffer injuries 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 traumatic brain injury.

If the 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 a 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 could 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 who 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.

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