Airport Lightning Strike – Does Airline have Duty to Protect?

Plane on tarmac
Deplaning directly on the tarmac, without the protection of a jetway, can expose passengers to dangerous conditions. Does an airline have a duty to protect when it comes to passenger safety in the airport operations area (AOA)?

In the summer of 2015, a healthy, vibrant 52 year old woman died of her injuries after being struck by lightning on an airport tarmac in Columbia, South Carolina.  The woman was getting off an American Airlines plane that had been diverted to Columbia because of bad weather.

Her family filed a lawsuit, alleging the airport and airline personnel did not take necessary measures to protect the passengers from a known risk of lightning.  The suit states the woman “came to her untimely death as a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ negligent, grossly negligent, willful, wanton, and reckless conduct or failure.”

Airport injury lawyer Doug Landau believes that, just as all common carriers have a duty to protect the traveling public, airline and airport personnel in this situation should have done more to ensure the safety of its passengers. Having tried cases in Columbia, SC, lawyer Landau has flown in and out of the small airport that services that Southern city. If there is a high probability of dangerous lightning strikes, then the airlines and tower have a duty to prevent foreseeable harms.

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory website,

“over the contiguous 48 states, an average of 20,000,000 cloud-to-ground flashes have been detected every year since the lightning detection network covered all of the continental US in 1989. In addition, about half of all flashes have more than one ground strike point, so at least 30 million points on the ground are struck on the average each year in the US.”

30 million ground strikes each year!!

Clearly, lightning poses a real and quantifiable danger.  Scientific advancement in weather prediction capabilities make it possible to anticipate storms and the presence of lightning.  In fact it would be nearly impossible with today’s technology NOT to predict the possibility of lightning!

“As pointed out in the lawsuit, every coach, troop leader, and sporting event manager knows not to expose people to lightning,” notes Lawyer Landau.  “The woman in this case had every reason to believe she would be safe when deplaning.”

If you or someone you know has been injured at an airport and there are questions as to what laws apply, email or call Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once (703-796-9555).