Medical Emergency In-Flight Negligence

One of the deepest fears of airline passengers is having a medical emergency while flying on an airplane. Few scenarios are more frightening than having a sudden heart attack during an airplane flight, far from professional medical care. This is especially true when on an international flight. In such an occurrence, the passenger will have to rely on the flight crew to give the best medical care possible, under the circumstances. However, what if the flight crew fails to provide the appropriate medical care? Will the passenger be able to bring a lawsuit against the airline in such a case? For international flights originating or ending in the United states, these questions and more are governed by the Montreal Convention.

This question was recently addressed in a federal case in the State of Texas. In White v. Emirates Airlines, the victim, who was a passenger on an international flight, suffered a heart attack a few minutes before landing in Houston. A flight attendant found the victim unconscious in the lavatory of the airplane. The flight crew gave the victim oxygen and contacted the airport to arrange an ambulance upon landing. The victim was transported to a local hospital, where she died two days later. Her three children later sued the airline under the theories that they did not administer CPR or use a defibrillator on the victim, and that they did not perfectly follow company protocol in handling the situation. The flight attendants countered that they did not do these things because the victim was still breathing.

The Court in White v. Emirates Airlines stated that the Montreal Convention governs situations such as this on international flights and interpreted the Convention to state that for an airline to be held liable, there has to be an “unusual and unexpected” event that injures the passenger while on board the plane and is external to the passenger. The Court gave a few examples of this, including refusing to divert a plane when a passenger had a heart attack at the start of the flight, and refusing to move a passenger who had bad asthma and was sitting next to a smoker.

The Court held that, in White v. Emirates Airlines, the crew obviously tried to help the victim by administering oxygen. Failing to give CPR or use a defibrillator was not an “unusual or unexpected” reaction to the medical emergency, as the victim was still breathing. As such, the airline was not held liable. It should be noted that the Montreal Convention only applies to International flight and not domestic flights.

If you or a loved one has suffered from an in-flight medical emergency and believe that the airlines did not provide reasonable care, you may be able to successfully bring a claim against the airline, if the flight crew acted in such a way that is completely at odds with how you would expect someone to act in such a situation. You may wish to contact an experienced aviation attorney to discuss the facts of your case and see if the flight crew acted in such a way as to expose the airline to liability.

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

Visits with the Attorney are by appointment only. Main office San Antonio, Texas.

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