Passenger mistreatment on airplanes has made the headlines more than once over the course of this year. Airlines and their personnel are given quite a bit of authority to handle certain situations, but outright abuse should never be tolerated. With the prevalence of smartphones, which allow people to record and immediately publicize bad behavior, passengers are standing up for their rights more than ever before.

Airlines and the Common Carrier Standard

Airlines belong to a legal category known as “common carriers,” which applies to entities that transport people for a fee, including buses and trains. Common carriers are held to a heightened duty of care, meaning airlines are obligated to use a higher standard of care to protect passengers from harm and ensure that they reach their final destination safely.

However, it should be noted that this standard was relaxed in 1998 due to the advancement in technology and regulation around public transportation. As a result, railroads, subways, planes, and buses are no longer considered to be especially hazardous for passengers.

Although it is more difficult for victims to win negligence suits against transportation companies than it was pre-1998, today’s common carrier standard is still higher than the norm. If you choose to sue an airline for mistreatment, its actions will be weighed against the common carrier standard to determine if the airline or its employees have acted inappropriately.

What Constitutes Passenger Mistreatment?

You don’t necessarily need to have been injured to successfully sue an airline over a poor experience. Being bumped from a flight is certainly an unpleasant experience, but serious wrongdoing on the part of an airline, in the event of a passenger’s injury or death, is legally actionable. In addition to basic mistreatment, an airline can be liable for causing harm in a number of other scenarios. These may include:

• Injury or death due to equipment failure, in-flight accidents (such as luggage falling from the overhead bin), or a crash

• Emotional distress/assault and battery

• Refusal to treat sick passengers

• Breach of contract, which may occur when an airline fails to provide a service that is required by federal regulations

• Damage to luggage, which are often filed in small claims court

• Death or injury to pets

Examining Your Legal Options

Suing an airline is a complex process that requires the assistance of a highly skilled personal injury lawyer. If other people suffered damages in the same or similar incident with the same airline, you may be able to initiate or join a class action lawsuit. 

If a class action lawsuit exists, you will have a better chance of recovering damages. When hiring an attorney, look for one who has extensive experience in airline litigation. Suing a major airline can be an intimidating experience. Having an experienced attorney by your side throughout the process is crucial to a favorable outcome.