We often do not think about it being the case, but our airports can be a haven for potential personal injuries. Between people in a rush, crowds, food service operations, and equipment and luggage clogging up walkways, getting injured while in an airport is a more common occurrence than you may think.
Injuries sustained at an airport can bring up many different legal issues, and often take more analysis than those sustained on other premises. Understanding these complexities is crucial to recovering if you are injured at an airport.
To be clear, we are talking about injuries sustained at the airport itself, not on or inside a plane. This may include check-in, TSA areas, shopping and food service areas, and the gates where passengers wait for planes to arrive.
Sovereign Immunity Problems
One of the biggest difficulties in airport accidents arise from the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Many airports are owned and operated by the state or city or other government agency, and thus, sovereign immunity comes into play.
Sovereign immunity says that someone can not sue the government or the state (we will use these terms, but the immunity extends to cities, counties, and other governmental agencies, not just the state).
Of course, we know from common experience that people can and do sue the state. That is because in American law, states and even the federal government to some extent, have specifically permitted themselves to be sued.
The problem is that when suing the state, there may be shortened timeframes and damages may be limited by law. There are also procedural requirements, like written demands, that may need to be made as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit.
Often, in an airport, the problem is whether you are suing a state entity or not. As you are aware, common retailers and restaurants do business in airports. If you slip in the airport Chilis, there may not be any state entity involved—Chilis is a private business. If you slip in a main gate or terminal, it may be clear that the state owns and operates that area. But if you slip on the threshold of the Chilis and the main airport area, the question of whether sovereign immunity applies may get more complex.
This is why documenting the exact cause and location of an injury in an airport is vitally important. Without this information, it may be difficult to determine who owns or controls the area where you were injured.
Because of the busy and fast-paced nature of an airport, a dangerous condition may exist, but that condition may not exist long enough for the responsible party to have adequate notice of it.
For example, if someone spills a drink in a main gate terminal, and it sits there for an hour, it is reasonable to believe that the airport knew or should have known of it, that it should have been cleaned, and that it was foreseeable someone would fall and be injured on it. But if that spill was only there for two or three minutes before you fell, it may make it harder to say that it should have been noticed by the airport, and cleaned.
Because of heavy crowds and people walking around with food and drinks, it is possible for a dangerous condition to exist, and someone to be injured on it immediately afterwards, making it harder to argue that the airport knew or should have known the condition was there.
Some conditions, the airport will almost always be charged to have knowledge of. For example, the jetways that connect the terminal to the plane must be even. If there is a raised lip on the connection to the terminal or to the plane or similar irregularity, the airport or airline could be liable for injuries caused by the condition.
Looking Out for Ourselves
Unfortunately, sometimes our worst enemy in an airport is us. We are looking up at the arrival and departure boards. We are putting our belts and shoes on after the TSA check in. We are carrying 20 items at once. In other words, we are often very distracted away from looking out for our own safety.
If you are injured, the party that you allege to be negligent may try to put the blame on you for not looking out for your own safety. A jury can apportion a percentage of liability to you. Whatever that percentage is, the negligent party will be excused from paying. If a jury thinks that your accident and injury would have been totally and completely avoidable had you not been looking up, down, or around, the jury could rule in favor of the negligent party, leaving an injured victim with nothing.
Seemingly common injuries can raise complex legal problems, especially in an airport where so many companies and entities are operating in one space. If you are injured, call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your case.