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The Duty to Divert a Flight

Anyone who pays attention to aviation news will occasionally hear stories about how a flight had to be diverted to a different airport than its destination. Flights may be diverted for a number of reasons, including security, mechanical problems, weather issues, and medical emergencies. As a recent case suggests, in some instances involving medical emergencies on international flights, an airline has a choice of either diverting an airplane or facing liability.

In Yahya v. Yemenia-Yemen Airways, a passenger on an international flight became critically ill and warned the crew of the flight that he could die if he did not receive immediate medical attention. The crew informed the victim that they would not divert the plane to Saudi Arabia so that the victim could receive medical care, and the victim would have to wait until the plane landed in Yemen. The victim died before the plane landed, and his sons filed a lawsuit.

The Court held that this type of claim, taking place on an international flight, was governed by something called the Montreal Convention. As interpreted by the Court, the Montreal Convention states that, for liability to attach to an airline in the case of a passenger injury, the employees of the airline must react to the passenger injury in a way that is unexpected or unusual. Basically, the flight attendants have to react to the passenger’s illness in a less than competent way.

In Yahya v. Yemenia-Yemen Airways, the sensible thing for the flight crew to do would be to diver the flight and land in Saudi Arabia for emergency medical treatment when the victim fell deathly ill. Such a solution was feasible and would have been the solution that anyone with any common sense would have chosen. Moreover, such a solution could have very likely saved the victim’s life. Because the flight crew did not do this, it could be held liable for failure to diver the plane.

One of the inherent risks in embarking on long flights is the risk that a passenger will become seriously ill while in the middle of the air, and without access to a doctor or competent medical care. This can be particularly problematic on an international flight, where landing may be hours away. Fortunately, the law has mandated that airlines may be held liable for damages if they do not divert their flights in response to medical emergencies. If you have been injured because an airline has failed to divert a flight due to your medical emergency, you may wish to contact an experienced aviation attorney to discuss the facts of the case. You may be able to recover a sizeable sum from the airline.

If you or a loved one have been injured, Call Carabin Shaw at 800-862-1260. We Can Help.

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