Everything You Need to Know About Suing an Airline for Compensation

Dennis Sullivan

Dennis Sullivan is a shareholder with Stepp & Sullivan, P.C. in Houston. His trial practice has an emphasis in civil litigation, including representation of individuals injured by the negligence of others, including catastrophic injuries and those injured in aviation and maritime accidents.
Dennis Sullivan

Many people have a fear of flying. The thought of getting on a massive aircraft that speeds through the air makes them incredibly uncomfortable. This fear might be great for lining the pockets of therapists, but in reality, flying is one of the safest ways to travel.

That safety record is what makes it all the more upsetting when you are injured onboard a plane or as a result of the flight crew’s negligence. You paid to get safely to your destination and that did not happen. Thankfully, there are options available to recover from your injuries.

So how do you succeed when you’re suing an airline? We’ve got you covered. Read on to learn everything you need to know about aviation litigation.

Where Were You Injured?

There’s no one way to fly. In fact, there are many different types of planes that fly for many different reasons. As a result, there are different laws that govern aviation.

The Federal Aviation Administration is the primary agency in charge of aviation safety in the United States. In addition to the FAA, there is the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is charged with investigating civil aviation accidents within the United States.

Commercial Carriers

Commercial airlines are governed by the Federal Aviation Act. This legislation mandates that airlines exercise a high standard of care in relation to their passengers. A standard of care is basically all the measures that the airline and its employees must take in order to make sure that passengers are not injured.

The Federal Aviation Act is also what the court will look to when deciding whether your injury was caused by the negligence of the airline and its employees. If the court finds that the carrier didn’t follow its standard of care and you were injured as a result, then you can recover for your injury.

Private Carriers

Private carriers are also subject to the Federal Aviation Act. 

Private carriers that fly aircraft with fewer than 20 seats are subject to the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994. GARA places time limits on when passengers can file lawsuits against aircraft manufacturers. Once an aircraft, and its component parts, have been in service for 18 years, then the manufacturer is no longer liable for accidents and injuries.

What Type of Injury Did You Suffer?

There are different processes and laws that apply to claimants depending on the type of injury they suffered. In the eyes of the law, there are two types of injuries someone can suffer: physical injuries and financial injuries.


If you suffered a physical injury as a result of flying, then the airline is subject to the Federal Aviation Act. In addition to this, if you were injured flying on an aircraft that had space for fewer than 20 people, then the previously mentioned General Aviation Revitalization Act applies as well.


There are many ways that an airline can cause you a financial injury. If the airline loses your luggage or cancels your flight and leaves you stranded, then you have suffered a financial injury.

It’s important to know that certain financial injuries are limited by the terms you agree to when you purchased your ticket. If you’ve suffered any type of financial injury as a result of the actions of an airline, and the airline has not attempted to compensate you, then you should speak with an attorney about your options.

What Caused the Injury?

Any time you are injured as the result of another person’s actions, the court is going to look at all the circumstances surrounding the injury in order to determine fault.

In law, there are certain factors that reduce your chances of success or that limit the amount you can recover as a result of the injury. If the court finds that your actions contributed to the accident, then it may reduce the amount of money you can recover proportionally or bar recovery altogether. This operates differently depending on jurisdiction.

What If I’m Injured Before Boarding?

If you’re injured prior to boarding the aircraft, then who you sue depends on where you were and the circumstances of the injury. For example, if you slip and fall in the airport bathroom, then the airport is liable. But if you are injured by an airline employee at the airport, then it’s possible you can recover from the airline, or both the airline and the airport if there are other contributing factors.

Should I Hire an Attorney?

Hiring an attorney is essential to finding success with your claim. 

Self-representation is referred to as pro se litigation. This means you represent yourself at all stages of the process, from filing the claim to going in front of a judge. Unfortunately, the navigating the legal system is complicated, and many pro se litigants get tripped up in the process before going before a judge.

Self-representation might be okay for very small claims, but when you file a claim against a major airline or an airport, you’ll be going head-to-head against an experienced corporate lawyer whose job it is to minimize claims like yours. The good news is that there are attorneys out there who specialize in fighting back against those airlines. They have an in-depth knowledge of the law and the process, and they can help maximize the amount of money you receive for your injury.

Contemplating Suing an Airline?

Traveling via airplane has a lot of benefits. You get where you’re going sooner, and it’s a significantly safer way to travel. That doesn’t mean that it’s not without its risks — accidents, both physical and financial will always occur.

That doesn’t mean you have no recourse for your injuries, however. Retaining the help of a knowledgable attorney will help you get the compensation you deserve and increase your chances of success with your claim when you’re suing an airline.

Were you injured onboard a plane or at the airport? We can help you. Contact us today for a consultation!

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