This past week, the National Transportation Safety Board released its final report regarding an incident which injured twenty five aboard United Airlines flight UA 897, a Boeing B744 tail number N173UA, headed from Washington Dulles Airport (DC) to Tokyo Narita Airport in Japan. The airplane accident and flight injury lawyers at Bohrer & Lukeman had been monitoring this inflight encounter with severe turbulence, which, according to Japanese police, caused 16 passengers and 8 crewmembers to incur minor injuries, while sending one flight attendant to the hospital with a fractured leg.
According to the report, the four-engine jumbo jetliner was 70 nautical miles east of Anchorage, Alaska when it requested to descend from an altitude of 32,000 feet to 30,000, due to a preceding report of turbulence at its current flight level. At 31,000 feet, the plane encountered severe turbulence, causing it to roll left and right and to “pitch up” in a wave pattern. The stick shaker was activated momentarily, the first warning that an aircraft is about to stall.
The crew activated the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign approximately 10 seconds before encountering the turbulence.
Airplane systems and cabin conditions were assessed after the incident passed before the decision was made to continue to Tokyo. 25 “cabin related defects” were logged in the cabin, including the Passenger Service Unit panels, which house the oxygen masks above each seat.
After the plane landed, all injured occupants received care at a hospital in Tokyo.
The “probable cause” of the accident, according to the NTSB’s final report, released February 24th, 2017, was “an inadvertent encounter with clear air turbulence.” Reached for comment on this investigation’s finding, and the rights of the injured passengers, aviation attorney Abe Bohrer commented, “it is of no consequence that the aircraft hit clear air turbulence. Under the Montreal Convention, the airline is responsible to the injuries to its passengers if these injuries occurred as a result of an accident. Injured passengers do not have to prove that the airline was negligent in order to recover.” Under the Convention, an accident is defined as an unexpected and/unusual event or occurrence, external to the passenger, and not the passengers internal reaction to the ordinary operation of the aircraft. Typically, turbulence of this magnitude and severity is considered unexpected and/or unusual which would make the airline responsible under the Montreal Convention.
“Often times, the passenger will take matters into his or her own hands and contact the airline after such an incident or accident. Frequently, the airline will claim that since the aircraft encountered clear air turbulence, there was no warning or wrongdoing on its part, and thus they were not negligent and not responsible.” stated Bohrer. “It is so crucial to immediately consult with an experienced and competent airline injury lawyer who knows the law and can adequately advise the passenger of his or her rights. Airlines are often reluctant to advise injured passengers, and even lawyers unfamiliar with the law, that there is a different standard of proof and liability that applies to the rights of injured international passengers.” Bohrer continued, I have seen so many situations where the airline claims it was not negligent (technically true) and offer a seriously injured passenger an upgrade, travel credit or small settlement, only to have us settle the case later on for a very significant amount of money.”
The law firm’s founder, Abe Bohrer, successfully represented the passenger severely injured as a result of in-flight turbulence in the landmark decision of Magan vs. Lufthansa, which defined the rights of international commercial airline passengers injured during turbulence. He has represented countless injured passengers since that court decision.
Bohrer & Lukeman is an aviation accident law firm with over 25 years of experience focusing on commercial and general aviation. In addition to representing the victims of air crash disasters, it has represented passengers injured on commercial airline flights from almost every possible cause including but not limited to turbulence, beverage burns, falls, luggage falling from overhead bins, improper response and handling of in flight medical emergencies, service cart impacts and fellow passenger sexual assaults.