Passengers’ Rights in Bay Area

This is a growing area of concern, with recurring accounts of arbitrary removal of passengers from a plan, stranding, overbooking, and other conduct, mostly related to the economic distress of the airlines, and the resultant fallout on the passengers. Sterns & Walker represents passengers who have been unduly stranded at airports, unreasonably restrained or removed from flights, or injured by negligent or reckless application of airline policy.

See Mr. Sterns’ informative article, “Coffee, Tea or Handcuffs?“, first published in the op-ed page of the San Diego Tribune, for details.

The TSA has also had its hands full with the recent screening changes that allow full body pat downs and revealing scans of the human body.  Some of these techniques seem like an invasion of passenger privacy.

Removal from Plane

The passage of the airline deregulation act, and then the Patriot Act, gave increased authority to airline personnel to remove passengers who may pose a threat to security. Although this law was intended as a tool to fight terrorism, in application it has been used to deal with not only unruly passengers, but anyone who for whatever reason runs afoul of a flight attendant.  While the removal authority ostensibly rests with the captain of the flight, in practice the decision falls upon the flight attendant.  A call from the flight attendant that a passenger is or may be a problem may be all it takes for the captain to authorize removal, even if the actual situation is an innocent misunderstanding or personality clash.  To date, the courts have held that these cases are not reviewable, and no actions for damages have been allowed.

Physical Injuries

In some instances, passengers have been physically injured due to airline policy.  For instance, airlines continue to struggle with the question of how to handle obese passengers who do not fit in standard-size seats.  Common solutions include upgrading the passenger to business class or allot him or her two seats, although the passenger is responsible for any additional costs, giving rise to claims of discrimination.  Some jurisdictions require the airlines to provide the passenger with an accommodation at no extra charge.  However, in today’s atmosphere of overbooked flights, additional seating is often not available.  In at least one instance, an airline settled a claim to the tune of $20,000 for a passenger who suffered acute sciatica, blood clot, and torn muscles after being squeezed into a seat encroached upon by an obese passenger on an 11-hour flight.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – “Economy Class Syndrome”

However, absent very special circumstances, such as above, despite extended litigation and major efforts on behalf of a number of law firms, the appellate courts have ruled that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurring after an otherwise routine flight is not compensable, and the airlines are not responsible.  On international cases, DVT has been held not to be an “accident” because it is not “external” to the passenger.  On domestic cases, the courts have ruled that there is not airline negligence in a DVT case because there is no duty to warn.  What the airline must advise and warn passengers is preempted by federal law.

Unavailability of seats may lead to injury or even wrongful death in other instances. In one case, a passenger whose complaints of allergy to second-hand smoke went unheeded by the airline died from the exposure in-flight.  After shepherding the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, Sterns & Walker obtained a recovery for the family.  More information on Olympic Airways v. Husain can be found here.

Lost Baggage and Flight Delays

The Montreal 99 Convention, an international agreement adopted by the United States and many other countries, places limits on how much passengers can recover for lost or damaged baggage claims or flight delay claims.  The limits are based on an international monetary unit which fluctuates daily, and are currently around $1,600 for baggage claims and $7,200 for delay claim, making most claims seem not worth the trouble to pursue.  In light of this, it is advisable to make special insurance or other arrangements if you are traveling with any particularly valuable baggage or making an especially important flight.

The above scenarios do not paint an overall positive outlook for passengers whose rights have been violated by the airlines.  However, experienced trial attorneys knowledgeable in the state, federal, and international laws which govern these claims may be able to pursue a legal remedy.  To discuss your potential claim, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Sterns & Walker today.