Examining the Standard of Care for Failure to Divert During In-Flight Emergencies

In-flight medical emergencies create challenging decisions for airline pilots. While the passenger would like to see the plane land as quickly as possible, diverting the flight is often dangerous, impracticable, or unnecessary. Airlines have developed routine policies and procedures in their efforts to provide the captain with some instruction and certainty in deciding whether to divert. There is less clarity, however, in the courts' review of the pilot's decision. Courts will apply a different standard of care depending on the type of flight and the jurisdiction in which the case is brought. On international flights (and domestic legs of international itineraries), a captain's decision to divert will be analyzed under the framework of Article 17 of the Montreal Convention. The Supreme Court has provided definitions for the relevant terms of the Convention, but as is often the case, further case law has been necessary to explain the definitions. On purely domestic flights, a captain's decision will either be subject to the general standard of care stated in the Federal Aviation Regulations or the more stringent state law common-carrier standard. Deciding between these two standards is matter of federal preemption, and there is not a consensus among the U.S. circuit courts on which standard should apply. After discussing and explaining the courts' approaches and interpretations in cases involving international and domestic flights, the article concludes that airlines should endeavor to protect themselves from liability by developing, installing, and applying standard practices for responding to in-flight medical emergencies.

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  • Authors:
    • Kaim, Gabriel D
    • Morrow, Nicholas A
  • Publication Date: 2014


  • English

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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01528410
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jun 17 2014 4:25PM