Airline cabins are small cramped environments where flight attendants serve lidless cups filled with scalding hot beverages to passengers from steel carafes onto small, flimsy, and often tilted plastic trays. Airplanes may be shaking due to unstable air, or a passenger in front reclines or jolts the seat causing a cup to spill off the tray onto the passenger right behind. On night flights, the cabin lights may be dimmed.  This combination of risks creates a recipe for disaster. It is not uncommon for flight attendants to simply drop a cup of scalding water onto a passenger, or for the entire carafe or pitcher to topple off the cart and onto a nearby passenger. One passenger may accidentally bang a neighboring passenger’s tray or the cup itself. And, all too often, a defectively tilted tray permits the thin paper or styrofoam cups to simply slide right off and onto the passengers’ lap, causing severe burns to the legs, thighs, torso and groin.

Burns are among the most common injuries suffered by commercial airline passengers and burns are among the most painful injuries that a person can suffer. The Center for Disease Control reports that every year, an estimated 1.1 million Americans require treatment for burn injuries. 38-58% of these burns are caused by hot liquids or steam. Many of these burns require emergency medical attention, hospitalization, debridement, and in the most extreme cases, surgery for skin grafting. Many burns leave their victims with embarrassing permanent scarring, skin discoloration, and disfigurement. Deeper burns can result in nerve injuries that cause long term pain, tingling numbness, sensitivity to heat and an increased risk to certain forms of skin cancers. Burn victims should seek attention immediately after the onset of injury as serious burns can cause people to go into shock, or result in infection.

Often, these preventable and unnecessary injuries are caused by the negligence of food and beverage handlers – including flight attendants – in failing to maintain coffee, tea, and hot water at safe holding temperatures. For safety, hot food and liquids must be held at 140° Fahrenheit or above, which is already hot enough that it would only take five seconds of direct skin contact to cause a burn requiring a skin graft. However, many airlines hold and serve hot beverages at even higher temperatures, greatly increasing the chance of a scalding-related accident. Serious burns requiring medical attention can be caused instantaneously upon contact with human skin once temperatures reach 160° F or above; but many airlines heat their onboard water in excess of 185 to 200 degrees!

Burns that affect commercial airline passengers are often the result of airline negligence, or a failure to use reasonable care, either in the manner in which the liquid was served, or in failing to properly inspect and maintain the airplane to make sure that the food service trays are level and stable.

However, laws that are unique and specific to international airline passengers may hold the airline liable or responsible for a passenger’s burn injuries even if the liquid was knocked over or spilled by another passenger.  For instance, if the burn injury occurs during the course of an international flight, the case may be subject to the Montreal Convention. If the burn occurs during the course of a domestic flight, the passenger must prove that the airline or one of its employees was negligent in causing his or her burn. As such, it is important to retain a skilled airplane accident lawyer in the event you or a loved one suffer burn injuries during flight on an airplane.

Sadly, young children are often the victims of serious burns caused by the service of scalding hot tea and soup coupled with their inability to handle such hot beverages in moving airplane environments. Recently, we have noticed a change in some of airline carriers’ practices and procedures that prevent the service of hot liquids to children or adults seated with or adjacent to small children.  We are pleased to see that there is concern for child safety and hope that it continues as a trend among the major airlines.

In-flight burns can also cause significant embarrassment and trauma to the injured passenger. Because the positioning of the cups and trays, the burns commonly occur to one’s private areas. The injured passenger is forced to tear their clothes off on the aircraft, sometimes in front of other passengers, to stop the burning and dry off the scalding liquid. Other times, they are stuck in the small aircraft lavatory, naked form the waist down, while a stranger, often times a random medical provider with little or no training in burn management, who responded to an announcement for medical help, closely examines their wounds and burns on an intimate body part.

To compound matters, despite the frequency that passengers are suffering in-flight burns, we have consistently seen cabin crews poorly trained, ill-equipped, and unfamiliar with providing a skilled and competent response to passenger hot liquid burns. Often, flight attendants do little more than retrieve a cup of ice water or a package of burn gel from the airplane’s medical kit. Even worse, flight attendants concerned about potential liability are known to avoid the passenger he or she injured and ask a colleague to check in periodically instead. Aircraft diversion is rare, and passengers are commonly required to endure hours of pain before the aircraft lands and they obtain proper medical attention.  

Our airplane accident and injury lawyers have handled numerous in-flight burn injury cases. We are familiar with the most common practices and causes of burn injuries to commercial airline flight passengers. We have filed lawsuits in state and federal courts on behalf of airlines burn victims and have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for airline burn victims.

We aggressively litigate burn cases against the airlines to insure that our clients receive full and fair compensation for their injuries. We are familiar with the airlines’ practices and procedures in serving hot beverages, maintenance of tray tables and cup surfaces, holding temperatures for hot beverages and special rules and regulations for service of hot liquids to children. We routinely  take the depositions, which is sworn testimony under oath, of the flight attendants and airline employees and retain aviation safety experts, when necessary, to assist with our cases.

We also know the law, and use it to protect our clients and their families from airlines that claim they are not responsible to burned passengers because they “did nothing wrong.”  This is particularly important if the accident and burns occurred during the course of an international flight, as the airline may be responsible under the Montreal Convention to compensate an injured passenger for the actions of a fellow passenger even if the accident and burns were caused by the actions of another passenger.

That means that we may be able to obtain compensation for a burn injuries suffered during an international flight even if the tray table was shaken by the passenger seated immediately in front, or the adjacent passenger accidentally knocks the scalding liquid onto the victim. That’s why it is so important to immediately speak to trained aviation counsel in the event of a serious in fight burn injury.

Some of our current and previous coffee and hot liquid burn injury cases:

  • Air India flight attendant drops carafe off hot water onto sleeping passenger ;
  • Fiji airlines passenger burned after adjacent passenger spills hot tea on her;
  • Wow Airlines child passenger, serious burns due to defective tray table;
  • Jetblue passenger suffered severe burns after a scalding beverage slid off an unlevel tray table;
  • Qatari Airlines passenger who suffered severe burns and underwent surgery after a flight; attendant dropped a scalding beverage mid-flight;
  • EgyptAir Passenger scalded by hot tea that slid off of a defective tray table;
  • An El Al Israel Airlines child passenger who suffered coffee burns;
  • Infant suffered burns requiring extended hospitalization after hot beverage was knocked onto her by a fellow passenger;
  • infant passenger who suffered a hot beverage burn aboard a United/Expressjet flight;
  • Lufthansa, Burns caused by hot liquid dropped onto passenger by flight attendant;
  • Delta passenger suffered ear and head burns from cup dropped by walking flight attendant;
  • British Airways: Carafe of hot liquid fell from service cart onto passengers lap causing severe burns.

These are only a small sampling of the airline passenger burn cases we have litigated. Our airplane accident lawyers have successfully litigated numerous burn injuries on behalf of passengers on both domestic and international flights. So, if you or a loved one has suffered burns aboard an airline flight, you need the services of lawyers who are familiar with aviation accident law.

Contact one of our airplane accident lawyers for a free, no obligation evaluation today.