As a common carrier, all airlines are absolutely responsible for any injuries sustained on the aircraft as a result of actions by the airline. Any conduct by an employee causing injury will involve the liability of the airline. No question about this. But when a passenger comes aboard sick or is otherwise incapacitated en-route, the airline has no clearcut responsibility for his or her sickness or injury, nor for providing medical attention.
A fictional best-selling book describes the anger of a man when his wife died aboard an airliner while traveling cross-country. She suffered internal bleeding as a result of a pregnancy in the story. He was distraught at the fact that he lost his wife and unborn child because the captain would not divert the aircraft and land. The captain did not choose to land the aircraft simply because the facts he had did not describe a gravely sick person. He decided to continue to his destination. The story describes how the husband’s lawsuit against the fictional airline is progressing in the courts. In the story, he and his lawyer feel his case against the airline is ironclad for liability.
Well, the story is fiction but in reality there would be a big question of liability for his wife’s demise. If the airline did not precipitate the medical problem then case recovery would be difficult at best. The final decision to make a diversion landing, rests only with the pilot in command who must consider the overall safety of the flight and other operational threats, for the safety of all the passengers.
Federal marshals EMT’s?
There is some talk that federal marshals are now being trained as emergency medical technicians (EMT’s) in order to effectively come to the aid of any one sick or injured and to treat the results of any altercation while on board. This is a good idea. Of course, marshals are not aboard all airline flights and it would be just your luck he or she won’t be on the one you get sick on. If you have a cardiac event in flight hope for a "medically qualified" passenger or a flight attendant qualified and willing to use the equipment.
The effective date of the new law and its regulations is April 12, 2004. Some major carriers have already placed enhanced equipment on board their aircraft. The three-year lead is designed to provide for training flight attendants, flight crews, technicians, and other safety people, on the installation, maintenance, and use of the new equipment. The equipment will be there but whether it gets used or not is the question. Just don’t get sick! AMT
Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate and is an ATP rated pilot. He worked with Western Airlines and the Allison Division of GMC in Latin America, servicing commercial and military overhaul activities and is a USAF veteran.
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