Inflight Injury and Turbulence

inflight injury

Air travel is considered by many to be safer than riding in a car or a train, but that doesn’t mean airline passengers don’t sustain injuries — passengers sustain an inflight injury aboard commercial flights more often than one might expect.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that roughly 58 people sustain inflight injuries due to turbulence every year. Other people are injured from improperly stowed baggage falling from overhead bins. In nonfatal accidents, inflight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline flight attendants and passengers. An inflight injury can be anything from a twisted ankle after tripping and falling on the way to the restroom, to slamming one’s head on the passenger cabin wall during turbulence. Regardless of the severity, passengers should be aware of their rights if and when they sustain an inflight injury.

In some inflight injury cases, the airline, the plane’s manufacturer, or even the manufacturer of a defective aircraft part can be held liable. However, inflight injury cases are often complicated, with many different rules governing whether or not victims are eligible to receive monetary relief. In order to give yourself the best chance of recovering the maximum compensation, you need to hire an experienced aviation attorney to represent your claims in an inflight injury lawsuit.

If you have sustained an inflight injury during a commercial flight, get in touch with an aviation lawyer at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman today to discuss your case. Call 800-827-0087 or fill out this form to set up a free, no-obligation case consultation today.


Nearly all air travelers have encountered some form of turbulence while flying commercially or otherwise. Most often, turbulence on a flight is mild or moderate. However, there are times when turbulence can become severe enough to cause injuries, including whiplash or even traumatic brain injury (TBI).

What is Turbulence?

Turbulence is air movement that often cannot be seen. It can be caused by a number of different conditions, including cold or warm weather fronts, atmospheric pressure, thunderstorms, jet streams or air around mountains. Turbulence can even occur when weather conditions appear perfectly clear; in fact, the aviation industry calls this phenomenon “Clear Air Turbulence.”

Turbulence is considered normal and happens often, but it can nonetheless be dangerous, especially for passengers or flight crew members who are not wearing their seat belts. Under these circumstances, turbulence can cause people to be thrown from their seats without warning.

It is for this reason that the FAA requires passengers to be seated with their seat belts fastened when:

  • The plane leaves the gate and as it climbs after takeoff.
  • Whenever the fasten seat belt sign is illuminated during flight.
  • During landing and taxi.

Turbulence Statistics

In nonfatal aviation accidents, turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants.

  • Approximately 58 people in the United States are injured every year by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts.
  • Between 1980 and 2008, U.S. airlines reported 234 turbulence incidents, which resulted in 298 serious injuries and three deaths. Of the serious injuries, 184 were flight attendants and 114 were passengers. At least two of the three reported deaths involved passengers who were not wearing their seat belts at a time when the fasten seat belt sign was illuminated.
  • According to the FAA, two-thirds of turbulence accidents occur at or above 30,000 feet.

Other Common Causes of Inflight Injury

Overhead Bins — According to estimates, 4,500 airline passengers and crew members around the world are injured every year when items fall from overhead storage bins. This amounts to 12 injuries per day.

Food and Beverage Carts — Food and beverage carts can ram into the shoulders, elbows or other body parts, injuring seated passengers. Carts can also hit passengers who are walking through the passenger cabin.

Falls — A number of passengers have sustained broken ankles or other injuries after bumping into improperly stowed objects and falling while moving through the passenger cabin.

Inflight Injury and Negligence

Depending on how the injury was sustained, you may have a claim against the airline for negligence. If your inflight injury was the result of carelessness or inattention on the part of an airline employee (including pilots, flight attendants, maintenance workers or ground crew members) you may be able to claim negligence in an inflight injury lawsuit.

Airlines have a duty to prevent passenger injuries, and this duty applies to airline employees as well. As “common carriers” (i.e. entities that transport the general public for a fee), airlines and their employees must exercise a high degree of care and take reasonable steps to ensure that passengers are protected from potential harm from the time they step onto the plane until they step off.

Below are a few examples of airline negligence:

— Flight crew leaving an object in the middle of an aisle, which causes a passenger to trip and fall.

— Flight crew failing to properly close an overhead bin, causing a heavy bag to fall on an unsuspecting passenger.

— Flight crew failing to stow bottles in pantry, causing them to fly out during landing and hit a passenger.

— Airline failing to properly train personnel.

— Airline failing to enact policies to protect passengers.

— Failure to illuminate the fasten seat belt sign and simultaneously announce over the P.A. system that the sign has been turned on and that the passengers are required to return to their seats and buckle up.

‘Acts of God’ and Turbulence

Airlines aren’t liable for accidents that occur due to “Acts of God,” or unforeseen and unpreventable natural events. Sometimes, turbulence falls into this category, as it is not always possible for an airline to predict and/or anticipate turbulence, especially clear air turbulence.

In the event that a passenger is injured from turbulence at a time when the airline and its employees exercised vigilance to protect those onboard a flight, the airline cannot be held liable.

However, airlines can’t use the “Acts of God” defense, for example, if a flight crew could have reasonably foreseen turbulence, but failed to turn on the fasten seat belt sign and warn passengers. In that case, the airline may be liable for resulting in flight injuries.

Inflight Injury and Product Liability

While it is true that many inflight injuries stem from negligence on the part of an airline, some are caused by issues with the plane itself or parts of the plane. Under these circumstances, the manufacturer of a defective plane, or a defective part, may be held accountable in a product liability claim.

Below are a few examples of product liability claims:

  • A defective overhead bin latch comes loose, allowing luggage to fall on a passenger.
  • A defective restroom door flies open and hits a passenger in the head.
  • A defective loading ramp causes a passenger to slip and fall.

What Should You Do After Sustaining an Inflight Injury?

With so many people flying across the world every day, it is important to know your rights if you sustain an inflight injury. As noted above, a variety of different parties can be liable in the event that you sustain an inflight injury. Regardless of who or what was responsible for the incident, victims will have to sort through endless legal issues in order to find out whether or not they are entitled to compensation for their injuries.

This is where having an experienced aviation attorney can help. The attorneys at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman have a long track record of success handling inflight injury cases. Our firm has litigated against many of the largest airlines in the world, securing compensation for our clients.*

Recent Inflight Injury Cases Handled by Baum Hedlund

— JetBlue Flight 1416 – September 18, 2014 – Inflight Emergency

— US Airways Flight 797 – November 8, 2011 – Inflight Incident

— Southwest Airlines Flight 812 – April 1, 2011 – Inflight Fuselage Rupture

— US Airways Flight 583 – February 24, 2011 – Inflight Incident (Depressurization)

— United Airlines Flight 967 – July 20, 2010 – Inflight Turbulence

— United Airlines Flight 1028 – January 21, 2008 – Inflight Turbulence

If you would like to speak with an aviation attorney about your inflight injury, please call us at 800-827-0087 or fill out this questionnaire to set up a free case consultation.