Liability for Failure to Switch Seats

In today’s airline industry, many passengers would love to be able switch seats due to health reasons. What passengers may not know is that, in some circumstances, an airplane may actually be held liable for refusing to let passengers switch seats in some circumstances.

In the case of Olympic Airways v. Husain, the victim was very asthmatic and was extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke. The victim specifically asked for a seat that was far away from smokers for this reason. To his surprise, when he boarded, the victim found that he was only three rows in front of the smoking section. The victim attempted to convince the airline three times to give him a new seat, but the flight attendant refused to do so, claiming she was “too busy”. During the flight, the smoking increased. The victim attempted to get relief by moving towards the front of the plane to get away from the smoking, and had what appears to be a massive allergic reaction. The flight crew attempted to give him medical aid, but it was too late and the victim went into cardiac arrest and died. The victim’s wife, who was on the plane with the victim, later brought a lawsuit against the airline.

The Court noted that this incident occurred during an international flight and therefore the Montreal Convention applied. The Montreal Convention states that the airline could only be held liable if its employees reacted to the situation in an unusual or unexpected way – essentially, if they did something dumb that makes little sense that helped cause the victim’s injuries. The airline tried to argue that it just followed normal protocol and that the accident was the result of the victim’s frail condition being exposed to normal airline operations. The Court disagreed. It held that, while the victim’s frail condition may have been one of the causes of the accident, the flight attendant’s failure to move the victim was also a cause, and the flight attendant’s failure to move the victim was indeed the type of mistake that would lead the airline to be liable, especially since the victim was mis-assigned to sit near the smoking section to begin with.

The case of Olympic Airways v. Husain shows that sitting in the wrong seat of an airplane can potentially be dangerous. If an airline does not act in a sensible manner in attempting to protect its passengers, as is the case with Olympic Airways, the airline may indeed be held liable for its failure. If you have been injured in some kind of in-flight accident, you may wish to contact an experienced aviation attorney to go over the facts of your case and see if the airline’s failure to act responsibility may have caused your injuries and may entitle you to damages.

If you or a loved one have been injured, Call Carabin Shaw at 1.800.862.1260. We Can Help.

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