Airline Employees Injured While Flying Should Be Covered, According to Some Legal Experts

Liz Carey

Philadelphia, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Incidents like Southwest Airline’s engine incident and emergency landing have farther reaching implications for workers’ compensation than whether or not the flight crew was injured, one attorney said.

The incident could potentially cost employers of those on board in workers’ compensation claims as well.

On Tuesday, Southwest Airline’s flight 1380 was headed from New York to Dallas, when engine problems forced the plane to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Passengers told news agencies that they heard or saw an explosion in the left engine. The explosion hurled debris through a window of the plane. According to witnesses, the woman seated next to the window was almost sucked out of the plane, but other passengers were able to bring her back into the plane.

After passengers provided the woman with 20 minutes of CPR until the plane could land, according to CNN, the woman was transferred to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Per Southwest Airlines, seven other people were injured in the incident, but no indication was given as to whether or not any of the injured were Southwest employees.

“We aren’t releasing specific details about the crew or customers on the flight,” a spokesperson with Southwest said in an email interview with WorkersCompensation.com.

Toni Vitanza, a flight attendant with a major US-based airline, told WorkersCompensation.com that incidents like Tuesday’s are rare. However, injuries to flight attendants, pilots and ground crew are common. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, airline pilots and flight engineers are two of the most dangerous jobs in America.

Vitanza said most injuries to flight crews come from luggage, and flight conditions.

“There are injuries you’d expect to see,” she said. “Carpel tunnel from beverage service, injuries from helping put luggage in overhead bins, opening the door to the plane over and over… And then turbulence is a huge workplace risk because we’re not belted in.”

Vitanza said she was injured seven years ago when the plane dropped hundreds of feet, while she was walking through the cabin.

“It was like the plane was falling 10 or 15 stories,” she said. “I was standing in the aisle talking to passengers, and when we went through (the turbulence), I was thrown to the ceiling of the plane. I remember looking down and thinking I was glad we didn’t have any lap-held infants because they would have been on the ceiling with me. After a few more seconds, my feet were on the floor. I had some back and neck soreness, but nothing major, thankfully.”

Another hazard: Objects falling out of the overhead bins and hitting flight attendants, or passengers.

And injuries to passengers raises another concern, Gary Newland said, an attorney partner in Newland & Newland in Arlington Heights, IL.

“Many of those flying on that Southwest flight were traveling employees,” he said. “If they were traveling for work, and something happens to them on a flight, they are entitled to workers’ compensation.”

That coverage includes PTSD, he said.

“When you’re a traveling employee, and something happens like that while you are on a plane, and it impacts your ability to do your job, like PTSD, the employer is strictly responsible for that,” he said. “And definitely, those flight attendants should be covered if they develop PTSD.”

The complicating issue, he said, was where to file the claim. In Tuesday’s incident, if an employee were injured while flying from New York City to Dallas, but the flight made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, that employee could file a claim in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, or the state where the headquarters of their company is located.

“A savvy attorney will look at the workers’ compensation laws in those states and pick the one that is most favorable for the employee,” he said. “Generally speaking, Illinois is a good state for workers in workers’ compensation claims. Texas has more protections for employers. It’s important for an attorney to determine which state their client is better situated.”