Who is Responsible If You Are Injured at the Airport?

Scott Blumenshine

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A 24-year-old woman was permanently paralyzed from the waist down at O’Hare International Airport when an outside pedestrian shelter collapsed on her. The tragic O’Hare airport injury occurred as the woman was walking to her flight under an enclosed pedestrian bridge between two terminals. The structure severed her spinal cord and pinned her to the ground after it became loosened from its base. 

An inspection of the airport shelters found that some had rusty supports, were held together by rusty bolts, or had bases that were completely missing bolts that anchored the shelters to the ground. One shelter was missing eight screws and 24 bolts. In response to the inspection, a worker for the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), the entity responsible for controlling and maintaining the airport, stated that all the shelters would be taken down.

The permanently disabled former dancer filed a personal injury complaint against the City of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Aviation. The lawsuit alleges that proper inspection and maintenance protocol would have discovered the dangerous conditions of the shelter. The complaint asserts that she would not have been injured if the CDA had repaired or replaced the unsafe shelters.

A few years ago, a physician was seriously injured when she slipped and fell in a puddle of liquid as she was walking past restaurants in O’Hare Terminal 3. She severely injured her knee and required two operations. She was unable to work while receiving treatment. The doctor sued the City and the CDA, alleging that those responsible for maintaining the airport were negligent in that they knew or should have known about the spill and failed to clean it or warn about its existence. The City and CDA settled with her for $800,000.

Airport Slip and Falls

Airport slips, trips, and falls are among the most common causes of injuries. Walking surface irregularities at airports include slippery surfaces, spilled food and drink, debris, unsafe floor mats, water leaks, loose carpets, uneven floors, and broken or non-existent walking safety mechanisms such as handrails. Another common cause of airport falls is slippery jet bridges.

Maintenance often fails to keep up with spills or other potentially hazardous conditions. People arriving at an airport are in motion and need flat, dry, and safe walkways to keep them accident-free as they travel.

Responsibility of the Airport and Airlines to Maintain Safe Premises

The airport manager is responsible for keeping the premises safe from dangerous conditions that may cause travelers harm. This does not mean the manager is liable for the injuries every time someone has an accident at the airport terminal. If the manager, through its agents or employees, knew or reasonably should have known about the dangerous condition and either failed to repair it or warn about it, the manager is responsible when someone is injured. For example, if there is liquid on the floor and you slip and fall, it could be considered negligence on behalf of the airline or airport authority.

Who is Liable: The Airport or the Airline?

  • The airline: When an accident occurs on an airplane due to the airline’s negligence, the airline will generally be liable for the injuries. Examples include tripping over debris in the aisle of the airplane, injuries caused by attendants, being hit by objects falling out of the overhead bin, and other accidents explicitly related to the airline, including aviation accidents.
  • The airport: When an accident occurs in the airport terminal while walking from one gate to another, near the food court, in the waiting areas, or in other public places, the airport manager will be liable for injuries that occur due to its negligence.
  • Both may be liable: Sometimes, the airline and the airport manager may be responsible for injuries. Recently, at O’Hare, a Southwest Airlines employee was pushing a woman in a wheelchair toward the plane for boarding. The wheelchair was tipped, and the woman fell out and was injured. The injured woman has filed suit against the City of Chicago, the CDA, and the airline.
  • Either, neither, or both: If you are injured in the airport waiting area for an airplane, the airport is most likely liable. However, you must be cautious and include the proper defendant in your lawsuit. You could be suing the airline when you should be suing the airport. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations for suing the airport could expire.

The court could dismiss your suit against the airline because it is the wrong entity, and you have lost your right to pursue damages. An experienced attorney can determine the correct person or party to name as a defendant in your personal injury lawsuit.

Our Airport Accident Lawyers Can Help

If you were injured in an accident at a Chicago airport, call or text our airport accident lawyers at the Blumenshine Law Group for a free consultation at (312) 766-1000 or email [email protected]. Time may be of the essence. If the incident occurred at O’Hare or Midway airports, a claim for damages may need to be initiated against the City of Chicago and/or the CDA; special rules and time limits apply since they are governmental entities. We’ll review the circumstances of your accident and decide the best way to move forward.

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