“Come Fly with Me”, circa 1958, is a classic song by Frank Sinatra, that could never have incorporated or imagined the events and circumstances that our flight attendants and air travel personnel deal with on a day-to-day basis in 2023.
The headlines tell us of incidents causing injuries to travelers, but in the background lies all the trauma suffered by the tremendous workforce that enables us to fly.
Most recent was a turbulent event aboard a Delta international flight, reported September 22, 2023, where both passengers and flight attendants were injured. Aside from natural disasters and unforeseen events, passengers have become unruly to staff, at the expense of the safety to the attendants.
On November 13, 2022, a United flight from San Francisco to Chicago on United had disruptive passengers cause three people to seek medical care upon landing. Overstuffed personal baggage, now more common to avoid checking bags that are frequently delayed or lost, are causing back and shoulder injuries to flight attendants. The staff is under pressure to get the flight ready for take off and must do whatever is necessary to get the baggage stowed away.
All of us have seen the videos captured by personal phones when drunk passengers become unruly, and it is the attendant who must intervene, and ultimately sustain injury. Their primary role is safety followed by hospitality, not to be forced as security guards between passengers.
In addition to the in-flight injuries, the entire workforce involved in airport operations, is also experiencing more danger, and more trauma, and even death at work. Back in 2014, an outside worker died after being injured by a paving vehicle at BWI Thurgood Marshall. Inhalation of gas fumes left on the tarmac can leave workers with serious lung injuries. Air traffic controllers, long known to be under extreme stress, are now being evaluated for sleep disorders and stress related conditions. During the pandemic, my services were sought out by flight attendants for their legal rights for covid related claims.
There are a myriad of claims that can be brought under the workers compensation statute for injuries sustained in Maryland within the airline industry. Furthermore, in Maryland, unlike some areas of the DMV, even when filing workers’ compensation, if the injury is caused by the negligence of a co-worker for the same incident, one can sue the co-worker and the coverage is provided by the employer.
The difference is that, in a lawsuit, one can ask for pain and suffering, which cannot be granted in a in a workers’ compensation case. Of course, the workers’ compensation carrier will still have a lien on any third-party recovery, even if it is the same carrier as the liability claim.
The classic tort claim still applies if some one who filed workers’ compensation is injured by someone else, not employed within the employer’s company. Examples are assault, or an accident caused by a different contractor while the person was on duty working at the airport.
There are many other classifications of workers who are at risk and able to file claims, once causation is met, such as pilots, security staff, gate attendants, ticketing agents, baggage handlers, ground crew, and skycaps.
I sincerely believe that claims are often unreported merely because the injured worker did not realize that they had a viable claim. For example, a flight attendant may not understand whether he or she was “on the clock” at the time of injury. It all depends on the law of the state that has jurisdiction. In Maryland, one of my favorite cases, that I call the Bubble Bath case, argued for the claimant by my dear friend and great attorney, John Noble, held that a traveling salesperson could indeed file a claim for injuries sustained by slipping in the bathtub at the hotel she was forced to stay for her sales job. The same might apply to a flight attendant who was on duty until he or she was flown back to his or her home base.
Those in the airline industry should consult an attorney if they believe an injury or condition might be compensable. It might be just a slip and fall that caused the injury, but other hazards can be covered. We have seen concussions, repetitive trauma to shoulders, hearing loss for noise exposure, burn and inhalation injuries, as well as toxic chemical exposure often left unfiled.