Airlines put fliers in the seat of danger, new litigation claims.
Something's up in aviation law: Recent lawsuits seek to hold airlines responsible for blood-clot-related injuries and deaths brought on by air travel. The cases allege that airlines have been negligent in failing to advise passengers to flex their leg muscles during long flights to prevent blood from clotting in the lower legs, a condition that can lead to pain, fainting, and even death.
A class action suit is under way in Australia, but only a handful of cases have been filed in the United States. "This is a new area of liability for air carriers," said plaintiff attorney Daniel Rose of New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. . "Plaintiff firms don't want to rush into these cases. We want to approach them properly and thoroughly."
The condition, deep vein thrombosis A blood clot (thrombos) in a vein deep within the muscle, typically in the thigh or calf. It is caused by disease or the lack of activity such as sitting for hours at a computer screen. (DVT See deep vein thrombosis. ), occurs when blood clots Blood Clots Definition
A blood clot is a thickened mass in the blood formed by tiny substances called platelets. Clots form to stop bleeding, such as at the site of cut. form in the calves. As a clot grows, it casts off smaller clots that can move to the heart and into the arteries of the lungs, blocking blood flow and depriving the body of oxygen. In rare instances, the clot travels toward the brain, causing a stroke. People who survive may face lifelong health problems.
Airline passengers are especially at risk because high altitudes increase blood's coagulability coagulability /co·ag·u·la·bil·i·ty/ (ko-ag?u-lah-bil´it-e) the capability of forming or of being formed into clots.
the state of being capable of forming or of being formed into clots. , slowing blood flow and causing it to pool in the lower legs. Immobility, cramped seating, compression of the thighs on a seat edge, and dehydration due to cabins' low humidity levels contribute to the pooling and clotting.
Although the condition can strike otherwise healthy passengers--1 in 10 suffers symptomless DVT, according to a study in the medical journal TheLancet (May 12, 2001)--certain ones are at greater risk. They include those with heart disease, cancer, and a history of blood clots; those who are pregnant or use oral contraceptives Oral Contraceptives Definition
Oral contraceptives are medicines taken by mouth to help prevent pregnancy. They are also known as the Pill, OCs, or birth control pills. or hormone replacement therapy Hormone Replacement Therapy Definition
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the use of synthetic or natural female hormones to make up for the decline or lack of natural hormones produced in a woman's body. ; and those who have had recent surgery or leg injuries.
Most of the DVT lawsuits claim that airlines are aware of the condition and its danger but do not alert passengers sufficiently. Some encourage passengers to move about during a flight but do not say why. To claim negligence, plaintiffs need to show that the airline is responsible for passengers' welfare as well as for their safety, that it violated that duty, and that DVT occurred as a direct result. But under Warsaw Convention protocols, airlines are responsible only for passengers' safety, not their health.
How can plaintiffs overcome the protocals? Rose said, "At a certain point it becomes a spillover spill·o·ver
1. The act or an instance of spilling over.
2. An amount or quantity spilled over.
3. A side effect arising from or as if from an unpredicted source: effect: If an airline is aware of a condition that threatens passengers' health, it becomes a safety issue."
In the United States, lawyers are in a holding pattern until researchers establish a definitive link between air travel and DVT. Scientists and airline industry representatives who met at a World Health Organization conference in Geneva Geneva, canton and city, Switzerland
Geneva (jənē`və), Fr. Genève, canton (1990 pop. 373,019), 109 sq mi (282 sq km), SW Switzerland, surrounding the southwest tip of the Lake of Geneva. , Switzerland, in March determined that a link probably exists but more evidence is needed.