Liability of Air Carriers for Failure to Divert During In-Flight Medical Emergencies

The author of this article (Paragraph No. 35,351) notes that the number of lawsuits brought against commercial airlines arising out of claims by passengers who experienced an in-flight medical event has expanded dramatically over the past several years. According to the author, many claims have focused on the carrier's failure to divert the aircraft to allow the passenger quicker access to emergency medical care on the ground. These claims have been adjudicated by a number of state and federal courts applying various inconsistent state laws and standards. In the interest of consistency and predictability, a uniform federal standard should be created to determine the liability of air carriers for an alleged failure to divert because of an in-flight medical emergency. Without such a standard, airlines and medical advisory services theoretically would have to vary the care given to passengers during flights based on the state airspace through which the aircraft happened to be traveling at the time of the emergency and the citizenship of the ill passenger. Variation of medical treatment based on these largely fortuitous factors is unworkable, especially during an emergency. Air carriers must be responsive to a significant medical event during flight. However, aircraft diversions are expensive and potentially dangerous, and it is unrealistic for carriers to divert an aircraft each time there is a medical event during a flight. The author discusses the importance of the establishment of a uniform federal common law standard that an air carrier has no duty to divert an aircraft because of an in-flight medical emergency unless it is more probable than not that there is an unstable, life-threatening condition on board the aircraft. Such a standard balances the interests of passengers in need of emergency medical assistance and the airlines' desire to operate without unnecessary diversions, the author concludes.

  • Corporate Authors:

    International Aviation Law Institute

    DePaul University College of Law, 25 E Jackson Boulevard
    Chicago, IL  United States  60604
  • Authors:
    • Hicks, Pamela C
  • Publication Date: 2004


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Print
  • Edition: Transfer Binder 1: 2001 to 2004
  • Pagination: pp 22261-22286
  • Monograph Title: Issues in Aviation Law and Policy

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01150745
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Feb 17 2010 11:38AM