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Airport Injuries: Where the pavement hits the tarmac.

Unique to aviation law are the shear variety of serious injuries that occur in the airport environment. Airports are busy hubs with many moving parts where airport personnel and management are focused on moving people as fast as possible from airplane to airplane, curb to airplane and back again. Traditionally divided by nomenclature like landside and airside, airports have today have come to include hotels, shopping malls, food emporiums and yes, even casinos. Combine these attractions with the tens of thousands of people each rushing to make their connections and you have the potential for serious injury or even, on rare occasion, wrongful death.

While the traditional notions of an airport have been disrupted, certain regulatory aspects, most if not all of which are federally regulated, remain. Federal Aviation Regulations found at 14 CFR 139 require airports with commercial air service, and others, to meet compliance standards. Injuries can occur where, for example, there is inadequate or untimely reporting of airport conditions to operators and aircraft or where mandatory equipment is either not present or in inoperable order. In each instance, a through review of the pertinent regulations should be undertaken by an aviation lawyer to evaluate whether a legal claim can be made on behalf of the client.

A trap for the unwary exists where the airport injury takes place in the boarding area, jetways or on airstairs. Jetway (also sometimes referred to by clients as gangways) injuries can happen where airline contractors fail to fulfill their obligations to the passengers by safely seeing them to the aircraft doors or assist them onto aircraft. Jetway maintenance can be the responsibility of the airlines or the airport authority depending on the airport lease in question. An aviation attorney will know exactly how to determine the respective responsibilities of each party.

If an injury occurs in the process of either embarkation or disembarkation, the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of International Carriage by Air, otherwise known as the Montreal Convention may apply as the only remedy against an airline. In addition to its two-tiered liability structure, the Montreal Convention has its own statute of limitations (the time period from the injury during which suit must be filed or you will forever prevented from bringing your lawsuit) that may be significantly shorter than the one utilized by local law.

In conjunction with the requirements of the Federal Aviation Regulations, airports may also be mandated through their municipal authority or governing bodies to maintain certain standards. For example, a recent case of ours involving what appeared to be a basic premises liability matter ("slip and fall" on ice in a covered area inside a parking structure) highlights the importance of digging through literally thousands of pages of documents and information. We were able to locate the contractual requirements for the parking structure operator and demonstrate that it failed to meet the standards required by the airport authority - although never once penalized or corrected by that authority. The result, a very advantageous settlement for our client who was led to believe by other attorneys that she had no case.

While not every serious injury at or in the airport environment involves aviation law (or even misconduct by another person or entity) an aviation attorney will be able to quickly identify and determine if liability exists and exactly which parties may be legally responsible.

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