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Injured Due to Airplane Turbulence? Here's What You Need to Know

Airplane turbulence is something that comes with the territory when it comes to air travel—a fact that many frequent flyers know all too well. However, injuries caused by turbulence are a relative rarity. According to recent data from the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been just 234 turbulence accidents between 1980 and 2008 with only 298 serious injuries and 3 fatalities.

Just because turbulence injuries are rare doesn't mean they can't happen to you. The following provides an in-depth guide on handling turbulence injury claims.

Who's Liable?

In most cases, the airline could be held legally responsible if you're injured on a turbulent flight. US airlines are considered "common carriers" and, as a result, must exercise extraordinary care and diligence when it comes to passenger and cargo safety. The standard of care not only applies to the airline itself, but also to its employees. This not only includes the actual flight crew (such as the pilots and flight attendants), but also the ground crew, maintenance workers, and other personnel responsible for aircraft and passenger safety.

It's not just the airline that can be held liable for your injuries. If a defect in the aircraft causes a malfunction that somehow contributes to your turbulence-related injuries, whoever's responsible for repairing the aircraft could be held liable. In some cases, even the manufacturer of the aircraft can be held liable if the defect in question is a long-standing factory defect.

The air traffic controller may also be held liable if he or she failed to properly warn the pilot of dangerous conditions that lead to turbulence. Air traffic controllers have a duty of care in regard to the movement of air traffic. If the controller proves negligent in that duty, they may be found liable.

What Actions Can Affect Liability?

It's generally accepted that negligent acts on the part of the flight crew or other airline personnel that lead to turbulence injuries could make the airline itself liable. For instance, if the pilot neglects to turn on the "fasten seat belt" sign or otherwise warn passengers of incoming turbulence, the airline may be considered at fault for any injuries that occur afterwards.

As another example, if a flight attendant neglects to properly latch an overhead bin and the contents of said bin spill out and hit a passenger during a bout of turbulence, the airline may be considered negligent and liable for the injury that occurred.

Airlines can also be found negligent for turbulence injuries if its policies failed to adequately protect passengers. Inadequate or nonexistent training of airline personnel in regard to ensuring passenger safety during turbulent flight periods could also increase an airline's liability.

However, the airline won't be found negligible if your own actions significantly contributed to your injuries. For instance, failing to abide by the "fasten seat belt" sign during turbulence could invalidate your claim against the airline and its personnel.

Is Turbulence Considered an "Act of God"?

While airlines typically do their best to anticipate and avoid turbulence, it still remains an unpredictable act of nature. An airline could effectively argue that turbulence should be considered an "act of God," and as long as the pilot and attendants take appropriate measures to protect passengers, it should not be held liable for any injuries that occur.

However, the "act of God" argument isn't always an ironclad defense against turbulence injury claims. In order for the argument to pass muster, the flight crew must take action if it is able to foresee turbulence and act in a reasonable manner to prevent any injuries from occurring. If the flight crew forgets to warn passengers to fasten their seat belts, for example, the airline could become liable for any resulting injuries that occur.

If you have been affected by airplane turbulence, contact an accident lawyer for advice.