Last week, an episode of severe turbulence injured five people. United Airlines Flight 1676 was travelling from Denver to Billings, Montana. The jet was at 34,000 feet in northern Wyoming when it turned sharply to the right and plunged. The incident lasted 25 seconds, and according to passengers it was terrifying. Three flight attendants and two passengers were taken to the hospital after the jet landed, and one flight attendant remained hospitalized overnight.
Fatal accidents are extremely rare for commercial flights. However, turbulence is a much bigger danger, with planes bouncing hundreds of feet in the air, or dozens of feet while landing or taking off. In nonfatal accidents, turbulence is the leading cause of injuries. Every year, dozens of people suffer severe injuries due to turbulence, which requires a trip to the hospital. Even more suffer minor injuries that don’t require hospitalization. On rare occasions, people are killed from turbulence. Most turbulence-related injuries occur at high altitudes, above 30,000 feet.
The most common injuries to passengers from turbulence are broken ribs or ankles, which usually happen when the passenger is in the seat but the seat belt isn’t buckled, or when they have gotten up from their seats. This is one reason experts recommend that passengers remain buckled up while flying. Flight attendants often suffer more serious injuries from either being hit by the beverage cart, or from being thrown across the plane.
Unfortunately, turbulence can’t always be avoided. Although thunderstorms can be seen and avoided, turbulence often occurs in clear air because of wind shear, which occurs when wind changes speed or direction. It also occurs when air rises and falls. Other pilots may give warnings about rough areas, but those aren’t always received.
Individuals who are injured because of turbulence (if it could have been avoided), or related in-flight accidents such as luggage falling out of overhead bins or beverage carts that hit passengers, may have legal claims available. The claims could be based on negligence, or on product liability. If the accident was caused by the carelessness of an employee of the airline, including pilots, flight attendants, maintenance workers, or others, a negligence claim could be pursued.
Common carriers, who are businesses that transport passengers for a fee, owe a heightened duty of care to passengers. They must act with a high degree of care in order to keep passengers safe. Some examples of negligence on the part of airline workers could include failing to properly latch overhead bins, causing luggage to fall on a passenger’s head, or flying an airplane while intoxicated, causing a crash. However, airlines aren’t liable for conditions that occur that are outside their control, such as severe turbulence that couldn’t have been foreseen.
Other accidents could be caused not by the airline, but by defective products. In that case an injured party may have a claim for product liability. Examples of defective products on airplanes include a defective seatbelt that caused an injury, overhead bins that failed to latch, or a mechanical failure on the plane. Individuals who are injured by defective products have a claim against the manufacturer of the product, and possibly other parties as well.
Micha Star Liberty of Liberty Law believes that those who are injured in aviation accidents, including in-flight accident caused by turbulence as well as airplane crashes, should be entitled to compensation for those injuries. This may include not only money for medical expenses, but also for pain and suffering, loss of companionship, wrongful death, and more.
Liberty Law assists those who have been injured in accidents, including aviation accidents, put their lives back together again. Liberty Law works in the Oakland-San Francisco area, and serves clients in the surrounding areas as well. Call today at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000 to learn more about how Liberty Law can help.