Ladd Sanger Authors Texas Lawyer Article: The Shifting Sands of Personal Jurisdiction

In the Texas Lawyer article “The Shifting Sands of Personal Jurisdiction,” Partner Ladd Sanger provided perspective on the issue of personal jurisdiction when it comes to aviation litigation. As an FAA-licensed commercial airline pilot, and a licensed helicopter pilot, Ladd examined how aviation litigation can become even more cumbersome, as battles over jurisdiction continue to prolong and complicate cases.

“Aviation cases are particularly affected by personal jurisdiction, because there are almost always numerous jurisdictions implicated given the transient nature of aircraft,” Sanger wrote. “For example, it is common for an aircraft to be manufactured in one location, maintenance on the aircraft and its engines to be done in several states, manufacturers in additional jurisdictions, and operators/pilots coming from yet other places.”

What this all adds up to for plaintiffs is often the need to file multiple lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions, resulting in inefficiency within the judicial system, as each separate case will proceed on different discovery and trial schedules. This translates to drawn out litigation and increasingly complex battles with the defense, who typically fight to avoid jurisdictions which they believe to have a plaintiff bias. For both sides, the litigation of jurisdiction can easily wind up costing more than the underlying litigation.

So where does that leave aviation litigation today, in the future and particularly in Texas? Sanger concluded by noting that Texas is already seeing the implications surrounding the changes in personal jurisdiction, which has resulted in an uptick in aviation cases filed in Texas. This is likely because the state is home to many airframe, engine and maintenance companies where jurisdiction is proper under the most stringent standards, as well as the state’s pro-business mentality, sophisticated judiciary and laws favorable to defendants.”

Passenger Bill of Rights: What You Need to Know About Passenger Air Protections

Passenger Bill of Rights

In recent weeks, certain unfortunate and disturbing incidents on major airline flights have made international news, leading many people to wonder about passengers’ rights on domestic and international flights. Is there such a thing as an airline passenger bill of rights?

Passenger Bill of Rights: Myth or Reality?

Perhaps the most infamous recent incident involved a man who was involuntarily “bumped” and then physically dragged from an overbooked United Airlines flight in April 2017. Several other passengers on the flight took cell phone videos of the altercation between the Chicago aviation authorities and the passenger, a 69-year-old doctor from Kentucky. These videos revealed a high level of force used to remove the man from the flight—force that ultimately resulted in injuries to him, including a concussion, broken teeth and a broken nose.

Since that incident came to light in news outlets around the world, discussion of airline passenger rights has understandably taken center stage. What are passengers’ rights aboard an aircraft? Which entities determine and enforce those rights? To understand this issue, we need to take a closer look at the history of airline consumer protection laws.

General Laws Protecting Airline Consumers

Since the U.S. airline industry was deregulated in 1978, the federal government no longer has control over some of the business practices followed by many airlines. Still, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) does determine and enforce certain protections for airline customers (i.e., passengers), and further, those airline passenger protections have been expanded in recent years to outline passengers’ rights in cases of lost luggage, hidden ticket fees, extended tarmac delays and more. Meanwhile, international agreements like the Montreal Convention address passenger problems occurring on international flights.

The main DOT airline consumer protection law in effect states that passengers have the right to expect “safe and adequate service in airline transportation” and to be protected “from unfair or deceptive practices” by airline carriers. If airline carriers are determined to have violated these or other consumer protection laws, the DOT is authorized to enforce the law.

Laws Regarding Overbooked Flights

The common practice of an airline selling more tickets than there are seats on the plane, commonly known as overbooking or overselling flights, is an issue that has taken center stage due to recent incidents like the one aboard the United Airlines flight. The DOT has outlined airline passenger protections relating to overbooked flights along with several other issues in its Consumer Guide to Air Travel and Airline Consumers’ Rights FAQ.

These sources state what anyone moderately familiar with air travel already knows from experience: In the case of both domestic and international flights, it is common practice for airlines to overbook flights in order to compensate for “no-show” passengers. And while arguably inconvenient and annoying for those passengers who are involuntarily “bumped,” this practice is not illegal.

DOT Rules Regarding Involuntarily Bumping Passengers

In the case of passengers being bumped involuntarily from overbooked flights, airlines are legally required to do the following:

  1. Ask for volunteers first to give up their seats, before bumping anyone involuntarily from an oversold flight.
  2. Disclose to passengers the airline’s criteria for determining which passengers may be bumped involuntarily.
  3. Provide the bumped passenger with substitute transportation and compensation (if required according to a set of tiered dollar amounts based on projected arrival time delays).

The above rules apply to both domestic and international flights with larger commercial airline carriers but not to charter flights or flights on smaller planes that hold fewer than 30 passengers. Also, airlines are permitted to determine their own criteria—such as a passenger’s frequent-flyer status, the fare they paid or how late they checked in for the flight—for involuntarily bumping a passenger.

When Federal Consumer Protection Laws Fail Airline Passengers

Fortunately, involuntarily bumping passengers is rare. Unfortunately, none of the above rules adequately covers situations like the one that occurred on the United flight, in which the doctor, who had already boarded the plane and taken his seat, was then de-boarded by force. While most cases of passengers being involuntarily bumped from flights occur in the gate or ticketing area, rather than after the passenger has already boarded the plane, this isn’t always the case, as the United Airlines incident made clear.

That incident called to light the fact that the DOT’s oversales rules do not specify limitations on when or where airlines are permitted to involuntarily bump a passenger. Furthermore, the DOT’s rules do not address the manner, including acceptable level of force, in which airlines may enforce involuntary de-boarding of passengers. Until future legislation addresses these gaps in regulations, other passengers may still be at risk of suffering personal injury due to similar incidents.

Since the April 2017 United Airlines incident, Congress has been actively looking into ways to overhaul airline policies to prevent such incidents in the future. Consumer advocacy groups hope that passenger protections will be further expanded and clearer rules will be imposed regarding overbooked flights and involuntarily bumped passengers. Specifically, many lawmakers are determined to pass legislation banning airlines from forcibly removing passengers already aboard the aircraft (in the case of an overbooked flight). Still, any aviation bill that comes to a vote is sure to be the subject of much debate.

What to Do if You or a Loved One Experiences Injury Aboard a Flight

Unfortunately, seeking legal action against an airline can be an intimidating, costly and sometimes disappointing venture for a passenger, even in seemingly clear cases of personal injury or wrongful death due to an airline’s negligence or unfair practices.

Fortunately, at Slack & Davis, our attorneys are experts in aviation laws, regulations and related consumer protections. If you or someone you know has suffered injury or wrongful death while aboard a commercial flight, air ambulance, private plane or other aircraft, Slack & Davis can help. We have a track record spanning two decades and are committed to giving our clients personal, caring attention as we handle their personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit with dignity and respect.

Ladd Sanger Provides Insight on Airline Passengers’ Rights in PacerMonitor Article

Licensed pilot and Managing Partner Ladd Sanger was featured in a PacerMonitor article “United Airlines’ Settlement Represents a Rare Passenger Win,” providing insight into airline passenger rights, after United Airlines struck a swift settlement with Dr. David Dao, who was forcibly removed from his seat to make room for United Airlines employees.

Though Dao’s case was highly publicized and a confidential settlement was reached seemingly overnight, most airline passengers shouldn’t hope for the same treatment should they run into problems while traveling. This is due to contracts of carriage mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, Sanger pointed out the contract of carriage is a contract of adhesion, meaning that passengers cannot negotiate for better terms.

After boarding an aircraft, Sanger explained that the airline must provide passengers the “highest duty of care…the airline must transport the passenger safely to their destination.”

However, airlines have done their best to protect themselves from litigation, meaning that the average person who is discriminated against or injured while boarding, traveling as passenger or exiting should not attempt or expect to settle claims without an advocate working on their behalf. “The average passenger doesn’t have the ability to evaluate a case because it’s so fact-intensive,” Sanger said. “If you have significant damages, you need to talk to someone that can help you navigate the system.”

Read full article.

The Airports are Going to Get Really Crowded – Demand for Airlines Soaring

If you think the airports are crowded now, just wait. Currently, the U.S. is the largest single aviation market with 692.2 million domestic passengers traveling in 2016. However, that number is expected to soar above 1 billion passengers by 2035, according to the Airline Industry Forecast released by the International Transport Association (IATA). And, the U.S. isn’t the only nation experiencing significant growth. China is expected to outpace the U.S. by 2024, adding an estimated 817 million passengers totaling 1.3 billion passengers by 2035 and making it the world’s largest aviation market. Additionally, over the past decade, the developing world’s share of total passenger traffic has risen from 24% to 40%, and demand for air travel is expected to double over the next two decades.

IATA expects 7.2 billion passengers to travel in 2035, which is nearly double the current total of 3.8 billion passengers carried in 2016. That’s a lot of people passing through airports across the globe. IATA’s forecast revealed that passenger demand has increased by an average of 5.4% each year since 2013. By contrast, global passenger growth has increased by only 4.3% between 2008 and 2012.

This rise in air traffic is based on the 3.7% annual growth rate, and regions with the strongest international passenger growth include: Africa 5.1%, Middle East 4.8%, Asia-Pacific 4.7% and Latin America 3.8%. With passenger growth increasing around the world, governments are recognizing the value of connectivity provided by aviation to drive global trade and development.

For a closer look at the forecast, Slack & Davis has created an infographic highlighting key trends:

Download (PDF, 940KB)

Slack & Davis Featured in Class Action Reporter: Farmers Insurance Suit Over Smart Plan Auto Program

As featured in two separate articles for Class Action Reporter, Partners Mike Slack and John Davis, together with the Law Offices of Joe K. Longley and Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division against Farmers Insurance Group over its Smart Auto Program. The lawsuit alleges that the insurance company offered sizable discounts for new subscribers, unfairly and illegally discriminated against current policyholders and violated the Texas Insurance Code.

The article explains that Farmers Group, Inc. selectively lowered insurance policies in favor of new policyholders while existing policyholders continued to pay higher rates, despite policy changes that mandate lower rates. The class action seeks all damages and/or restitution associated with unfair discrimination; award of attorneys’ fees; expert witness fees and costs; recovery of monies recovered for or benefits; statutory penalties and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest for violation of the Texas Insurance Code.

To read a more detailed summary of the case, please visit our Farmers Insurance blog post and FAQ page.