If you’ve read enough headlines about air travel, you’ve probably seen it. Whether it was the United Airlines flight attendants who suffered injuries on a flight from Denver to Omaha, or the Qantas flight attendant who broke her ankle on a flight from Perth to Canberra, turbulence can represent a very serious risk of injury for airline cabin crews. And, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, these injuries are rising. The FAA reported that twice as many serious turbulence injuries occurred in 2016 as in 2015, according to USA Today.
Chances are, if you’ve followed the news during the past several weeks, you’re familiar with a doctor from Kentucky and his premature exit from United Airlines Flight 3411, bound from O’Hare Airport to Louisville. Cell phone video footage shows law enforcement officers violently dragging the man off the flight, allegedly causing the doctor to suffer a concussion, a broken nose, and the loss of two teeth. Now, sources including the Chicago Tribune indicate that legal action is forthcoming.
For airline employees, their jobs come with a substantial degree of risk. Their employment responsibilities place many of them in a position to potentially sustain harm. One United Airlines employee dislocated his patella while doing his job on Christmas Day in 2013. That injury entitled him to workers’ compensation benefits. While his case took place in Virginia, the outcome is instructive regarding how employees can obtain compensation in Illinois.
A job as a flight attendant can involve many potential hazards. For one United Airlines flight attendant, her injuries took place not while she was on-duty but while she was traveling off-duty aboard a United flight to go to work the next day. The First District Appellate Court, in addressing this employee’s case, concluded that she did not meet any of the factors that would show that she was a “traveling employee.” Since she did not qualify under the traveling employee exception, the flight attendant was deemed merely to be commuting to work and was not entitled to benefits.
An airline pilot who suffered a serious neck injury lost her workers’ compensation claim because, according to an Appellate Court ruling, her pursuit of her case did not comply with the time limitation rules imposed by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s regulations. This pilot’s loss should serve as a clear instruction to all workers injured on the job to take prompt action and retain experienced counsel to ensure that limitations periods and procedural rules do not defeat their cases.
Scores of injury claims for flight attendants are not filed every year due to lack of information, lack of perseverance and mostly due to fear. Flight attendants get hurt on the job. Whether due to turbulence, lifting heavy bags, pushing carts, ground transportation and layover accidents or repetitive trauma, injuries for flight attendants are common. Whether you call it an “occupational,” “IOD” (injury on duty), job injury or workers’ compensation claim, your rights as an injured worker are established by law. The Illinois Workers Compensation Act provides benefits for the injured, including medical expenses, lost income protection through weekly payments known as Temporary Total Disability (TTD) and compensation for permanent partial and total disability known as a “settlement” or “award.” The Illinois Workers Compensation Act is a no-fault system, which means the flight attendant need not prove their employer did anything unsafe or wrong to be eligible for benefits. These benefits are in place for the injured to get the help they need to recover from the injury and minimize the hardships that may result from the injury. Illinois workers compensation is the best benefit available to UAL flight attendants injured on the job.
Many United Airline flight attendants based or domiciled outside of the United States in London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Narita and Guam deprive themselves of these benefits by not filing a workers compensation claim in Illinois when injured.
There is nothing to fear. Some flight attendants tell us they will not pursue a claim when injured because they are afraid they will be fired from their job. It is illegal to fire, harass or retaliate against an employee for filing an occupational claim or hiring an attorney to pursue it. Additionally, the union contract between the AFA and United Airlines protects against United Airlines terminating the flight attendant’s employment. Our firm has successfully helped United Airline flight attendants injured on the job for over 50 years. We have represented many internationally domiciled flight attendants including United-AFA union, MEC and LEC officers.
In America, there are over 98,000 flight attendants who face the risk of injury or death every time they board an aircraft. Some injuries are immediate, while others can develop slowly over time. Since 2003, nearly 34% of flight attendants have reported injuries stemming from their occupation. Moreover, 25% of flight attendants who are injured on the job have to take time away from work while their injuries heal and they recuperate. In some cases, their airlines may hold this time away from work against the employee which can have long-term career consequences that may affect an individual’s immediate income and opportunities for advancement.
Immediate Risks Flight Attendants Face
Flight attendants can be seriously injured at any time before, during, or following a flight. Common sources of injuries include the following:
It is common for those who need to travel by airplane to be concerned about their safety while up in the air. With worries ranging from mechanical failures to terrorism, fliers have a right to be concerned. However, there is good news to report as the International Air Transport Association recently reported that the number of major airplane accidents dropped by almost 12 percent during 2015 from the previous year. This is the equivalent of one major accident per 3.1 million flights flown.
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Tony Tyler, CEO of this group reported, “In terms of the number of fatal accidents, it was an extraordinarily safe year.” The group reported that 3.5 billion travelers remained safe on 37.6 million commercial flights flown during last year.
2015 was among the safest years in history for airline passengers. Globally, the industry experienced 1 crash for every 5 million flights. This is the lowest it has been in 70 years. While the decreased fatality rate is something to celebrate, an ugly threat is making its presence known.
While the overall number of accidents declined, the number of deliberate actions intended to bring down an aircraft increased. These include acts of terror and acts of suicide. The increase in these types of accidents highlights a pressing need within the airline industry to enhance security. It also highlights the need to better screen personnel who may pose a threat to passengers and aircrew.
Acts of Terror
Fire is one of the most dangerous threats to an airplane. With thousands of gallons of fuel, passenger luggage, and cabin fittings, airplanes are a tinderbox just waiting for a spark. While fuel has always been a leading cause of aircraft fires, lithium ion batteries are a growing cause for concern.
Fire on Florida Runway
On October 29th, 2015, a Dynamic International Airlines plane caught fire at Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport. Witnesses reported the nearly 30 year-old aircraft was leaking fuel prior to the fire. The fire caught quickly and crew evacuated passengers as best they could. Even so, twenty-one passengers and crew suffered injuries and were taken to the hospital for treatment.