Aviation law relates to the operation of aircraft, the maintenance of aviation facilities, and any injuries that may occur either on the aircraft or at the facility. Although states may enact some of their own laws related to air travel, the federal government has supremacy over aviation regulations.
What Legal Issues Arise in the Aviation Industry?
Personal injury - Personal injury cases in the aviation industry often involve:
- Injuries caused from prolonged sitting in an aircraft seat, such as thrombosis.
- Accidents that occur while traveling on a plane, such as strains from plane movements during turbulence.
- Infliction of emotional distress, which may occur while a plane is rapidly descending.
- Slip and fall accidents at airports.
Wrongful Death - Although rare, plane crashes and accidents are unfortunate inevitabilities of the aviation industry. Wrongful death lawsuits allow family members to obtain compensation for the loss of a family member in an airplane crash. Under the Family Assistance Act, airlines must follow specific guidelines after an airplane crash results in death. The airlines are required to:
- Set up family support services, including grief counseling and support
- Designate individual caregivers to assist each family
- Work with families to identify and return remains and possessions
- Set up a communication network with families
Lost or Destroyed Property - In most cases, passengers may not sue an airline for lost luggage. Most airlines insure their passengers' luggage up to a specified amount in case of damage or loss. Consequently, passengers are left with no other recourse but to accept the airline's offer of compensation. You should be aware that pets are generally regarded as luggage with no added valuation.
Cancellation of Flights - Passengers may not sue the airlines for rescheduled or cancelled flights. With the purchase of a ticket, there is a presumption that the passenger is aware of the possibility that a flight may be cancelled or rescheduled to his or her own detriment.
Extended Delay of Flights on Tarmac - Typically, no matter how frustrated or angry, passengers cannot sue the airline for extended delays that leave them confined to the airplane for hours on end. However, they may be able to sue if the delay caused them some type of injury. With an increase in lawsuits from passengers over these delays, the Department of Transportation has recently taken this issue up. As of now, there are a strict set of rules governing how airlines must tend to passengers who are subject to delays from 2-3 hours and more. Failing to abide by these rules will result in up to up to $27,500 per passenger.
Do I Need an Attorney Experienced in Aviation Law?
In the majority of cases involving the everyday conflicts that may arise with the airline industry, a products and services lawyer is not needed, and the first party you should direct complaints to is the airline. However, with issues concerning personal injury or wrongful death, an attorney should be consulted to ensure you protect your interests, and bring a lawsuit if necessary.