As the COVID-19 virus spread around the world in early 2020, airlines around the world began suspending flights to and from virus hotspots, and airports in some locations began screening passengers using thermal imaging and other technology to detect any virus symptoms.
Many airlines, however, kept flying planes to and from known hotspots in locations throughout Europe, throughout early 2020, and widespread screening of passengers was not undertaken in the United States until around March 15, 2020. As various governmental entities blamed each other for the gaps in screening, airlines remained largely absent from discussions responsibility for spreading the virus around the world.How Coronavirus Spreads on Airplanes
According to National Geographic, the coronavirus likely spreads on airplanes in the following ways:
- Droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes land on airplane seats, seatbelts, armrests, door handles, and tray tables, where they can “last on surfaces, from hours to months;”
- Droplets from an infected person can also land on these surfaces when an infected person touches them;
- Surfaces throughout a plane, including in bathrooms and overhead bins, may contain droplets left by an infected person, which are transferred to others when they touch the bins or objects within bathrooms;
- Although not “the major mechanism of transmission… viruses can be transmitted through the air in tiny, dry particles known as aerosols;”
- Close proximity to an infected passenger;
- Contact with or proximity to an infected crew member.
A study done after another coronavirus in 2003 called SARS showed that an infected crew member had a likelihood of infecting 4.6 passengers on a flight. Airlines became well aware of the risks that coronavirus posed to airline passengers when, in 2003, “[a]fter one flight carrying a symptomatic person and 119 other persons, laboratory-confirmed SARS developed in 16 persons,” while six other cases were considered probable. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December 2003, more than a dozen doctors recommended that “[m]easures to reduce the risk of transmission are warranted.”Airlines Carry Passengers From Known Hotspots, Despite Risks
For months after the World Health Organization alerted governments around the world about the new, highly infectious COVID-19 virus, airlines continued flying passengers to and from known virus hotspots. Airlines carried some 430,000 passengers from China, on 1,300 direct flights, to 17 different cities across the United States, prior to the imposition of travel restrictions in late January. Even after travel restrictions were imposed, airlines transported an additional 40,000 persons into the United States from China, according to the New York Times.Duty of Airlines to Protect Passengers From Coronavirus Injuries
Airlines are under a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure safe travel for passengers. It is clear, from the 2003 SARS coronavirus outbreak, that airlines knew of the special risk airplanes posed to passengers and others in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, and that “[m]easures to reduce the risk of transmission [were] warranted.”
It is equally clear, however, that airlines kept flights running long after the coronavirus surfaced, and that persons kept purchasing airline tickets and flying on airplanes. Exposure on an airline to coronavirus could result in weeks or months of intensive medical treatment for the infected person. The illness, treatment, and recovery can result in permanent injury, extensive out-of-pocket medical costs, and extensive pain and physical and emotional suffering.
If a person has been exposed to the COVID-19 virus as a result of the negligence of an airline, the person may be entitled to damages for out-of-pocket medical costs, pain and suffering, and any permanent damage or loss of function caused by the infection.Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyers can Help Infected Passengers With Negligence Claims
In order to reasonably protect passengers from exposure to the highly infectious and deadly COVID-19 virus, airlines could have taken the following steps:
- Screening passengers for symptoms of the illness and isolating or refusing boarding to those with symptoms;
- Inquiring into the travels of passengers, to identify any persons who may have traveled to virus hotspots;
- Inquiring into any contacts between passengers with persons who may have been infected;
- Refusing boarding to suspected symptomatic persons;
- Testing all employees for the virus;
- Screening employees for symptoms and inquiring into employees’ travels and contacts with potentially infected persons;
- Requiring all employees and passengers to wear protective clothing and masks;
- Enacting social distancing measures among passengers and employees to lower the risk of transmission between persons on airlines;
- Enacting disinfection measures to ensure that surfaces within airlines and airline facilities remain virus free;
- Limiting or prohibiting travel to and from known virus hotspots.
If an airline failed to take reasonable steps to protect passengers from exposure to the COVID-19 virus, a person injured by the airline’s negligence may be entitled to compensation. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist airline passengers injured by the COVID-19 virus.Contact Our Personal Injury Attorneys Today to Schedule a Free Consultation
The best thing an airline passenger injured by exposure to the coronavirus can do is contact an experienced, local personal injury attorney. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist injured passengers in identifying the exposure event and those responsible, and in preparing and filing claims against at-fault persons or carriers.
With offices in Charlotte, Monroe, and Mooresville, Arnold & Smith, PLLC handles personal injury cases across the entire State of North Carolina. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to set up a free initial consultation.