In-Flight Injury From Turbulence: Is The Airline Liable?

In-Flight Injury From Turbulence: Is The Airline Liable?

Airlines have a legal duty to keep their passengers safe. Although in-flight injuries from turbulence are fairly rare, those who suffer such injuries due to the airline’s failure to meet this legal duty may have grounds for a personal injury claim. If you have recently suffered a flight injury that you believe may have involved negligence, you can learn more about your next steps and legal options by contacting the Mississippi personal injury lawyers at Lott Law at (228) 215-2787.

What Is Turbulence?

According to the National Weather Service, turbulence is an irregular movement of air caused by swirling air patterns and vertical flows. It can range from minor, uncomfortable jolts to severe instances that briefly make the aircraft unstable or lead to structural harm. Turbulence is often linked to atmospheric factors like fronts, thunderstorms, and wind shear. 

The National Weather Service divides turbulence intensity into the following four categories:

  • Light turbulence – This level of turbulence leads to slight altitude or attitude changes or minor bumpiness. Passengers typically only feel a minor strain on their seatbelts.
  • Moderate turbulence – Moderate turbulence involves similar effects as light turbulence, but they are a bit more severe. The pilot does not lose control of the plane. Passengers feel a stronger strain against their seatbelts. Unsecured objects can become dislodged. 
  • Severe turbulence – At this level, turbulence results in major and sudden changes in altitude and/or attitude. 
  • Extreme turbulence – At its most extreme, turbulence causes the airplane to move around violently and the pilot is unable to control it. Structural damage to the plane is common in these cases.

What Is An Airline’s Duty of Care to Their Passengers?

Airlines and all other types of businesses owe a duty of care to their customers, meaning that the airline and their employees are legally required to act in a reasonably careful manner to avoid preventable injuries. This duty of care applies to all employees of the airline, including those who work in the airport, on the ground, and in the air, as well as maintenance workers and safety inspectors.

Airlines, bus companies, taxis, and other businesses that offer transportation open to the public are legally considered “common carriers”, and owe a higher duty of care to their customers. Airlines are required to follow the safety regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and must also follow the same duty of care rules that apply to other businesses, such as addressing hazards quickly and taking all other reasonable actions to protect passengers. If an airline fails to meet its duty of care and a passenger is injured as a result, the airline could potentially be held liable if the passenger files a personal injury claim.

When Can An Airline Be Held Liable For Turbulence Injuries?

Turbulence is a part of flying and most flyers have experienced it at some point. However, airlines have a legal duty to ensure that the aircraft, pilots, and flight attendants are all prepared for turbulence and will take necessary measures to minimize the risk of passenger injuries. If a passenger suffers a turbulence-related injury due to negligent conduct by an airline employee or negligent actions by the airline itself, the airline could be liable for any resulting injuries. 

Some examples of negligence that could result in airline liability for passenger injuries include:

  • Failure to warn passengers of turbulence
  • Failure to instruct passengers to take precautionary measures, such as fastening seat belts
  • A pilot’s failure to identify turbulence or follow FAA guidelines for avoiding turbulence

If you have recently suffered a flight injury during turbulence, contact the dedicated Mississippi personal injury lawyers at Lott Law to learn more about your legal rights. 

Can a Third Party Be Held Liable For Turbulence Injuries?

In some cases, a party other than the airline may be considered negligent for in-flight injuries. If injuries occurred due to defects with the aircraft, parts, or equipment, those injured could have grounds for a product liability claim against the manufacturer. For example, if a passenger is injured during turbulence due to a defective seatbelt that would not fasten, the seatbelt manufacturer could potentially be held liable. 

Injuries Caused by Turbulence

Passengers and crew members are at risk of a wide range of injuries when a plane encounters severe turbulence:

  • Soft tissue injuries – During severe or extreme turbulence, sudden jolts can result in soft tissue injuries like whiplash, sprains, strains, and contusions. 
  • Broken bones – When turbulence is severe enough to throw passengers or crew members, the impact upon landing can result in broken bones.
  • Head injuries – Severe and extreme turbulence can sometimes cause passengers and crew members to fly into the air and hit their heads, resulting in serious injuries.
  • Trip and fall injuries – If passengers or crew members are standing or walking when turbulence hits, they could trip and fall or collide with other passengers and get injured.

Recent Examples of In-Flight Injuries Caused by Turbulence

In 2023, three instances of in-flight injuries caused by turbulence made national headlines. 

Lufthansa Airlines In-Flight Injuries

In March, seven passengers were injured during extreme turbulence on a Lufthansa flight from Texas to Frankfurt, Germany. All seven were hospitalized after the flight was diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport. Fortunately, these injuries were relatively minor.

Allegiant Airlines Turbulence Injuries

In July, four passengers were injured on an Allegiant Air flight from North Carolina to Florida when the plane encountered severe turbulence. Two passengers and two flight attendants were immediately rushed to the hospital for treatment after landing at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Six other passengers were evaluated by medical personnel and released.

11 Delta Airlines Passengers Injured in Severe Turbulence

In August, 11 passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight were injured and hospitalized after the plane encountered severe turbulence while preparing to land in Atlanta. These injuries included both passengers and crew members, but Delta did not elaborate on the severity of the injuries. 

Discuss Your Case With Our Mississippi Personal Injury Lawyers

When we fly on commercial airlines, there is an expectation that the airline will keep us safe. When airline or third-party negligence results in preventable in-flight injuries, passengers may be able to seek financial compensation through a personal injury claim. If you have recently suffered a flight injury, the experienced Mississippi personal injury lawyers of Lott Law are prepared to evaluate your case, determine whether the airline is liable, and take legal action. Get in touch with us today at (228) 215-2787 to learn more about your legal rights in a free consultation.