Aviation lawyers

What are the types of cases that aviation lawyers handle?

Aviation lawyers for airline passengers handle a number of different types of cases. Many think that aviation litigation involves only airplane accidents and helicopter accidents. However, aviation law covers almost every aspect of commonly encountered situations involved in air travel. Examples of the types of cases that aviation lawyers handle include:

  • Injuries suffered while in the airport terminal and injuries suffered while arriving at and departing from airports (for example, curbside incidents);
  • In-flight injuries;
  • Major air disasters, including airplane and helicopter crashes.
  • Claims resulting from lost and delayed baggage.

Are there different laws governing aviation claims?

Aviation lawyers for airline passengers can offer specialized advice on the law governing aviation claims. The potential compensation for such claims depends on the type of claim asserted and where the injury was suffered. For example, as explained below, there are special rules for injuries suffered on international flights (including domestic legs of international flights). Further, although state laws generally govern recovery for personal injury and death for strictly domestic flights, federal laws and regulations play a significant role in the resolution of those claims.

What aviation laws apply to personal injury and wrongful death claims arising from international flights?

Aviation claims arising from personal injury or death in international travel (which includes domestic legs of an international trip), are governed by the Montreal Convention. The Montreal Convention has a two-tiered system of compensation for such claims:

  1. “Strict liability” for claims not exceeding 128,821 “Special Drawing Rights” and,
  2. For claims exceeding 128,821 Special Drawing Rights, the airline must prove that the injury or death “was not due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of the carrier or its servants or agents” or “was solely due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of a third party.”

The value of Special Drawing Rights is calculated by the International Monetary Fund. As of January 10, 2020, each SDR is equal to 1.38 U.S. Dollars, so 128,821 SRDs equals approximately $177,773.

What aviation laws apply to claims arising from strictly domestic flights?

Claims arising from strictly domestic flights are largely governed by the airline’s “contract of carriage,” which can be found on every airline’s website. Claims for personal injury or wrongful death arising from domestic airline travel will generally be governed by state law. However, federal laws and regulations play a significant role in the resolution of such claims.

What recourse do I have if my baggage was damaged, lost, or delayed?

Aviation lawyers for airline passengers can advise you of your rights in the event of damaged, lost, or delayed baggage. Each airline has what is called a “contract of carriage” (available on their website) that is incorporated into the terms and conditions of your ticket. This contract contains a limitation of liability for such claims (excluding wheelchairs or other assistive devices) and will spell out the steps that you must take in order to recover damages for damaged, lost, or delayed baggage (including wheelchairs or other assistive devices). For example, the contract may require you to report any claim for damaged, lost, or delayed baggage within a certain time period (for example, 24 hours) and to file a written claim within a certain time period. If you fail to do so, your claim will be barred and you will not be entitled to compensation.

Federal regulations govern the amount of money to which airlines can limit their liability for strictly domestic flights:

On any flight segment using large aircraft, or on any flight segment that is included on the same ticket as another flight segment that uses large aircraft, an air carrier shall not limit its liability for provable direct or consequential damages resulting from the disappearance of, damage to, or delay in delivery of a passenger’s personal property, including baggage, in its custody to an amount less than $3,500 for each passenger.

“Large aircraft” means any aircraft designed to have a maximum passenger capacity of more than 60 seats.

Claims for damaged, lost, or delayed baggage on international flights (including the domestic legs of international trips) and claims for losses due to delays in arriving at your destination are governed by the Montreal Convention, which provides: “The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo.” However, the Montreal Convention does allow air carriers to defend such claims if it proves that it “took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for it or them to take such measures.”

As of 2019, the Montreal Convention limits of liability for such claims have been increased as follows:

Item of DamageLimit of Liability in SDRsLimit of Liability in USD
as of January 10, 2020
Losses Resulting from Delay in Arrival5,346$7,377
Losses Resulting from Damaged, Delayed, or Lost Baggage1,288$1,777

If you have valuable property in your baggage that exceeds the limits of liability in the in the Montreal Convention (for international flights) or the contract of carriage (for domestic flights), you must declare this in advance of your flight and pay a fee for increased limits. For domestic flights, some items may be specifically excluded by the contract of carriage. You should also consider whether any insurance policy you have (or may purchase, such as travel insurance) may provide coverage for such losses.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has a helpful guide for air travelers on these and other issues.

Webster Book LLP offers a free consultation for these matters. If you would like to examine whether you have an individual claim, please fill out the form below or call us at 888-987-9991.

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