Who is Responsible If You Are Injured at the Airport?
A 24-year-old woman was permanently paralyzed from the waist down at O’Hare International Airport when an outside pedestrian shelter collapsed on her this summer. The structure severed her spinal cord and pinned her to the ground after it became loosened from its base.
An inspection of all of the airport shelters found that some had rusty legs, were held together by rusty bolts, or had bases that were completely missing bolts that anchored the shelters to the ground. One shelter was missing 8 screws and 24 bolts. In response to the inspection, a worker for the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), the entity responsible for controlling and maintaining the airport, stated that all the shelters would be taken down.
The permanently disabled former dancer filed a personal injury complaint against the City of Chicago as well as the Chicago Department of Aviation. The lawsuit alleges that proper inspection and maintenance protocol would have discovered the dangerous conditions of the shelter. The complaint asserts that if the CDA had either repaired or replaced the unsafe shelters, she would not have been injured.
A few years ago, a physician was seriously injured when she slipped in a puddle of liquid as she was walking past restaurants in O’Hare terminal 3. She severely injured her knee and required two operations. She was unable to work while receiving treatment. The doctor sued the City and the CDA alleging that those responsible for maintaining the airport were negligent in that they knew, or should have known about the spill and failed to clean it or warn about its existence. The City and CDA settled with her for $800,000.
Responsibility of the Airport and Airlines to Maintain Safe Premises
The manager of an airport has a responsibility to keep the premises safe from dangerous conditions that may cause travelers harm. This does not mean that every time someone has an accident at the airport, the manager is liable for the injuries. If the manager, through its agents or employees, knew or reasonably should have known about the dangerous condition and either failed to repair it, or warn about it, the manager is responsible when someone is injured.
Who is Liable: The Airport or Airline?
- The airline: When an accident occurs on an airplane due to the airline’s negligence, the airline will generally be liable for the injuries. Examples include tripping over debris in the aisle of the airplane, injuries caused by attendants, being hit by objects falling out of the overhead bin and other accidents related specifically to the airline.
- The airport: When an accident occurs in the airport terminal, walking from one gate to another, near the food court, in the waiting areas or other public places at the airport, the airport manager will be liable for injuries that occur due to its negligence.
- Both may be liable: There are times when both the airline and the airport manager may be liable for injuries. Recently, at O’Hare, a Southwest Airlines employee was pushing a woman in a wheelchair toward the plane for boarding. The wheelchair tipped and the woman fell out and was injured. The injured woman has filed suit against the City of Chicago, the CDA and the airline.
- Either, neither or both: If you are injured in the airport waiting area for an airplane, it is most likely the airport that is liable. But, you need to be cautious and be sure you include the right defendant in your lawsuit. You could be suing the airline when you should be suing the airport. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations for suing the airport could expire.
The court could dismiss your suit against the airline because it is the wrong entity and you have lost your right to pursue damages. An experienced attorney will be able to determine the correct person or party to name as a defendant in your personal injury lawsuit.
If you were injured at an airport in any type of accident, contact us at the Blumenshine Law Group for a free consultation. Time may be of the essence. If a claim for damages needs to be initiated against the City of Chicago and/or the CDA, special rules and time limits apply since they are governmental entities. We will evaluate the circumstances of your accident and decide with you the best way to proceed.