Airlines May Be Liable for Passengers Injured in a Medical Emergency

airline passenger with illnessAirline passengers are at a significant disadvantage if they suffer a medical emergency during a flight. The airline may not have the right equipment to cope with the passenger’s affliction, there may not be a doctor on board who can provide assistance, and the passenger may have to wait hours before the plane lands to get proper treatment. While a passenger’s medical emergency may not have been caused by the airline, a commercial air carrier can be held responsible if its staff does not adequately respond to the emergency.

An Airline’s Negligence Can Worsen a Passenger’s Medical Event

In-flight medical emergencies are unfortunately common. A New England Journal of Medicine study from 2015 found that one medical emergency occurs for every 600 commercial flights, although the real figure is likely higher because many minor incidents are unreported. Documented cases include a wide range of conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, seizures, uncontrollable bleeding, sudden labor or delivery, and food poisoning.

Airlines may be found guilty of negligence for injuries involving:

  • Faulty medical equipment. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all air carriers to carry enhanced medical kits as well as Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in any aircraft over 7,500 lbs. It is not enough to have these items on board; they must be in good working order, calibrated properly, and contain all items necessary to meet any reasonably-anticipated medical emergency. The airline may be held liable if these kits contain expired or broken equipment or have items missing that should have been restocked. In addition, the company who manufactured the first aid equipment could be responsible if the equipment failed due to faulty design or defects during assembly or installation.
  • Failure to identify and respond to an emergency. Crews should be trained in how to identify a potentially life-threatening situation. If the cabin crew is unsure about how to handle a medical emergency, the pilot should communicate the dispatcher or nearest ground crew for direction from a qualified medical professional.
  • Improper first aid training. Flight attendants should be trained on how to safely administer first aid in a variety of situations (such as when a passenger has diarrhea, is vomiting, or has lost consciousness) and be familiar with how to use items contained in the first aid kit. Airlines are responsible for enrolling their staff in first-aid training programs that include written tests, annual refresher courses, and CPR training that lasts a day and is followed by an examination.
  • Lack of consideration for at-risk passengers. Airlines should take special precautions to protect disabled, elderly, or other at-risk passengers who are more likely to suffer a medical event while traveling. This can include adjusting seating arrangements, inquiring about food allergies, screening passengers for relevant pre-existing medical conditions, ensuring special medication is onboard (such as anti-seizure medications or insulin), and providing extra assistance (such as escorting a passenger with a fall risk to the restroom).
  • Failure to communicate injury risks to passengers. Healthy passengers have been known to suffer sudden medical events because they are unaware of the injury risks associated with air travel. Passengers who suffer blood clots in their legs as a result of sitting for too long or experience ill effects due to changes in cabin pressure may have an injury claim if the airline did not warn them of these problems and advise reasonable solutions.
  • Failure to perform an emergency landing. Pilots are required to land immediately if doing so can prevent loss of life. However, unscheduled landings are costly for airlines, and the dispatcher or pilot may choose for the flight to continue to its scheduled destination.

Your Airline May Have Violated Federal Laws Regarding Medical Emergencies

Under the Aviation Medical Assistance Act of 1998, commercial carriers must provide information to the FAA about medical incidents that occur on an aircraft or during flight. However, many injuries go unreported because the airline wants to avoid bad publicity. Some airlines promise to undertake their own investigations into the handling of a medical incident without ever following through, adding insult to injury for passengers and families.

The aviation accident attorneys at GriffithLaw can perform a thorough investigation to determine what caused your injury and who is responsible—and we do not collect any legal fees unless we win your case. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to set up your no-cost injury consultation, or learn more about your rights in our free guide, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.

John Griffith
Nashville Personal Injury Trial Attorney