What Happens If You're Injured after Your Flight Is Grounded Due to a Natural Disaster?
The recent tragedy in Nepal has left thousands of travelers stranded, awaiting a route home as airlines and other carriers have focused on the evacuation of those most closely affected by the earthquake. If you're injured after your flight has been re-routed due to a natural disaster, what are your options? What if your only "injury" is to your pocketbook--are you entitled to recover financial damages resulting from your unplanned layover? Here is how some principles of personal injury law may apply if your flight has recently been re-routed, as well as the accommodations an airline is required to provide upon redirecting your flight.
What must an airline provide upon re-routing your flight?
If you're traveling on a US carrier and your flight has been re-routed to an alternate airport (or even country), the airline is required to reimburse you for the unused value of your ticket. However, in many cases, you'll also need to secure accommodations for an overnight stay before the next outgoing flight is available. In this situation, the airline may provide--however, depending upon the specific contract language contained on your ticket, you may be entitled only to a voucher for a reasonably priced hotel, rather than reimbursed for the full costs of the hotel you use.
If your airline carrier has exempted '"acts of God" from the situations for which it is required to reimburse passengers, you may even need to provide your own hotel room. Using this rationale, because the natural disaster was caused by unforeseen elements, rather than the airline's action (or failure to act) the airline should bear no financial responsibility for any resulting inconvenience. However, in an effort to improve customer relations, an airline may still opt to cover some of these costs.
Is the airline responsible for any injuries or financial damage you suffer as a result of a re-routed flight?
If you're injured while stationed at an alternate location, or if you miss a once-in-a-lifetime event because your flight has been re-routed, you may have a legal claim against the airline--but only in certain situations.
In general, the airline will not be responsible for injuries (or financial damages) you've suffered if its course of conduct was deemed prudent and reasonable under the circumstances. For example, if your flight path took you through an earthquake-affected area and your plane needed to continue past the affected area to safely land, it's likely this action will be deemed reasonable -- and it's unlikely you'll be able to collect from the airline if you're injured by a vehicle or suffer other injury while traveling to your temporary hotel.
If the airline instead chose to land in a dangerous area, against guidance or professional recommendations, this can establish the negligence or recklessness needed to succeed in a personal injury lawsuit.
What must you prove in able to recover damages from the airline?
If you feel your injury was due to the airline's negligence or recklessness, you'll need to establish a few things in order to recover damages. First, you'll have to show that the airline owed you a duty of care. The specific language governing the airline's duties should be on your ticket (or in the documentation you received along with your ticket), and should state that the airline takes responsibility for transporting you from your departing destination to your arrival destination.
You'll next need to establish that the airline breached this duty. Although breaches solely due to natural disasters or other acts of God won't put the airline in violation of its duty, a mishandling of an otherwise routine disruption could constitute a breach.
Finally, you'll have to show that the airline's breach of its duty of care directly caused your personal injury, or placed you in circumstances that caused you to be injured. For example, if you're struck by a car while crossing the street from the airport to your hotel, your first cause of action will be against the car driver.