What if my luggage causes injury at the airport ? (Part 1 of 3)

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While on an international flight recently, a passenger’s bag fell out of the overhead compartment and struck another flyer as we were getting ready to get off the jet. The owner of the bag, who had been struggling with its weight, apologized, and luckily the innocent victim was unhurt. However, the question remains:

Who IS responsible if a traveler’s onboard luggage causes injury ?

Innocent passengers may be injured by heavy bags stuffed into the overhead bins as more air travellors seek to avoid checking baggage or paying for overweight bags at the airport
Innocent passengers may be injured by heavy bags stuffed into the overhead bins as more  and more air travelers seek to avoid checking baggage or paying for overweight bags at the busy airline ticket counter

In this post we will discuss the scenario of a piece of baggage causing injury to another passenger. (In following posts, we will examine the ramifications of an accident involving the overhead bin itself and incidents involving members of the flight crew, ground, terminal or security employees.) If a bag drops out when the overhead compartment is opened, and no one has touched the bag, it is unlikely that the owner of the bag would be responsible. Most flights have specific warnings about the fact that bags in the overhead bins may shift during the flight. This warning is akin to stating “open the overhead bins at your peril.” However, if a passenger has stowed an overly heavy bag and brings it down on another passenger, there may be some responsibility for the resulting injuries on the part of the luggage owner. If a “good Samaritan” helps bring another passenger’s bag down from the jet’s overhead bin, and it strikes a third passenger, even though the accident was unintentional, the injured traveler may have cause to seek redress from the bag’s owner and the person who dropped it on her, though it would be a hard case to try to a jury against the well-intentioned “volunteer.” An easier case for needless endangerment may be made where an airport traveler runs someone over with his or her luggage cart racing for a plane or who nails an innocent bystander yanking his or her bags off the luggage carousel.

Bottom line, proving negligence and a passenger’s liability for overhead bin luggage injury may be difficult, whereas a defective overhead bin incident may be a more viable product liability case and international laws may apply. If you or someone you know or care for has been injured as the result of an airport terminal, airplane or other air travel related accident and there are questions about what laws apply, e-mail or call us at ABRAMS LANDAU, Ltd. (703-796-9555) at once.

2 responses on “What if my luggage causes injury at the airport ? (Part 1 of 3)

  1. Sara Davidson

    What happens in the case of a guy who is cramming his suitcase in an overhead bin at boarding and it strikes the passenger sitting in the aisle seat below? Can he claim that it was due to the way other suitcases were positioned in the overhead bin?

    1. Doug Post author

      Sara, The other passenger can claim anything he wants. The real question, as my sister-in-law succinctly puts it is, “Does he have a case ?”

      The injured passenger could have a case against “the negligent crammer,” who should have seen how tightly packed the overhead bin was when attempting to fit one more in. As for the negligent crammer deflecting the blame and responsibility and suggesting that others share the culpability, I am not sure any Court would give that argument much traction. Plus, if the luggage was overfilled or especially dangerous (i.e., a “punk rock suitcase” with spikes and sharp edges), the crammer might find himself in over his head !