Getting Airline Evidence

After an injury onboard a jet, the commercial airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration require their flight crew to fill out incident reports.

It is generally known that contemporaneous reports are made while the memories are still fresh, so these are sometimes the “best evidence” of what transpired. Memories fade over time, and injuries and strong pain medications can cloud the mind.  Immediate written, or tape-recorded, statements frequently contain details that are not recalled years later at Depositions and Trial. These reports often contain valuable evidence that can help with claims made by injured passengers. However, the airlines do not usually turn these documents over voluntarily.

So how does Lawyer Landau get a hold of this critical evidence to help his clients?

These reports are generally not turned over during the injury “claims process.” They are often protected under a legal privilege known as “in anticipation of litigation.” The airlines will claim that as these documents for a prepared quote in anticipation of litigation, for use by their counsel in the preparation of the case, they are no different than the notes of their lawyers, paralegals, and risk managers, which are usually immune from being subpoenaed, and reviewed by the other side. They can be Subpoenaed once a lawsuit is filed. A Subpoena is a judicial invitation to provide documents, things, and/or people by a certain time and place. As those who have been harmed or are on a journey, a lawyer can demonstrate that obtaining this information through other means would be difficult or costly. Therefore, the lawyer requests that these “internal documents” be made available for Subpoena and handed over to the opposing party.

The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) experiencing a high volume of international and domestic travelers every day. From January to July of 2023, they had 7,308,792 travelers go through the airport! Every time there is an onboard injury, a Mandatory Incident Report must be made.

Obviously, photos of the incident, the injury, and the damaged tray table that caused the complaint about the faulty coffee pot would be seen as evidence. This evidence would probably be requested by the plaintiff’s counsel, the injured passenger, and/or their expert witnesses through a court subpoena for inspection. Likewise, in a case where the Passenger Service Unit “PSU” (air conditioning, call button, light unit) fell from the ceiling, photographs of the defective plane part were critical evidence of the case.

Doug Landau has reviewed numerous incident and accident reports regarding accidents onboard airplanes. These are typically biased, as they are written by the employees of the airline being sued. Nonetheless, he has managed to extract useful information for his clients’ cases.

In international air travel, these reports are often not written in English. In those cases, like when medical care is provided with files from a non-English-speaking facility, Landau will arrange for skilled translators to assist in comprehending what the other party is communicating about the client’s injury-causing event. This is another reason why international air injury cases are more expensive and time-consuming than your routine rear-end fender-bender case.

However, the Abrams Landau Team relishes the challenge. The Team has a unique experience, helping people with these kinds of cases, and has other resources on the “inside” due to Doug’s Worker’s Compensation practice. The Team helps “translate” and understand the policies, procedures, and deficiencies that caused the injuries.

Airlines are classified as “common carriers.” It is their responsibility to transport travelers safely.

Another very helpful aspect of the onboard flight incident or accident report is the fact that they may contain the names of passengers who are potentially helpful witnesses since they do not work for the Defendant airlines. Airlines protect these reports and fight efforts to turn over witness names. They often will claim invasion of privacy. Getting the entire list of passengers for a flight, along with their contact information, usually will require a protracted court fight, since the airlines want to protect their customer’s privacy, their proprietary information

In order to safeguard their customer information, incident reports usually do not include the names of unrelated witnesses. This information is frequently redacted or under seal by a court. This includes individuals who were near the scene of a beverage cart accident, falling ceiling incident, or hot coffee spill, such as those behind or adjacent to it. Such details can often sway a case, particularly if the flight crew all provide identical statements that are unhelpful to the injured party’s case.

if you, or someone you know, has been injured on board an international or domestic flight, and there are questions about the evidence, the proof needed to prevail, or legal requirements, please contact us at (703) 796–9055 or email