By CHRISTOPHER B. KENDE, an aviation attorney and member of law firm Cozen O'Connor, and JENNIFER B. JACOBSON, an associate, who have represented airlines in passenger-disability
and personal-injury litigation
For one, airlines need to ensure that disability and medical coding in the reservation record is clear and communicated correctly between airline staff and travel agents to avoid confusion and improper conduct.
Employees should also receive training to deal with special needs passengers and adopt procedures to handle medical injuries frequently associated with the disabled.
Case in point: A passenger required assistance to descend the steps of a portable staircase used by an airline to disembark, but, because of improper coding in the passenger's record, no assistance was available at the arriving gate.
The passenger tried to descend the steps alone, fell and seriously injured herself. Better communication would have avoided this problem.
Proper staff training on etiquette for interacting with disabled or wheelchair-bound passengers, both on the ground and on board, can also be effective in minimizing liability when things go wrong.
Although there are numerous arguments available to rebut Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, claims or limit exposure to pecuniary losses under the Warsaw Convention, this is clearly a highly emotionally charged and complex area of aviation law.
Public relations concerns and the potential for highly unfavorable media publicity may militate in favor of resolving such claims early, rather than becoming involved in high profile and often costly litigation.
But developing strong policies upfront to handle these situations will be your best defense.
April 1, 2009
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