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Workers’ Compensation for Airline Employees [infographic]

Written by Ankin Law Office

When airline workers are injured or become ill because of airplane crashes, turbulence, or other work-related incidents both on and off of the plane, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Airline workers of all kinds – from pilots and flight attendants to baggage handlers – are subject to workplace accidents and injuries. Like all other injured workers, airline employees who are hurt while on the job can recover benefits, regardless of who was at fault.

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Because many airline employees are also traveling employees who may be injured in another state, the workers’ compensation claim process can be a little more complex than other workers’ compensation claims. Moreover, airline employees are entitled to a combination of benefits under workers’ compensation law and their union contract.

Where is a Workers’ Compensation Claim Filed?

To receive Illinois workers’ compensation benefits, an injured airline worker must meet one of the following requirements:

  • The work-related injury was sustained in Illinois;
  • The airline employee was hired in Illinois; OR
  • The airline employee’s work is principally located in Illinois.

Airline employees who work for an airline that is not principally located in Illinois may also file a workers’ compensation claim in Illinois if he or she was injured while in Illinois during an on-the-job layover.

So if a flight attendant from Chicago suffers an injury on a flight originating in Los Angeles or Kuala Lumpur, filing a claim and collecting workers comp insurance benefits might be confusing. Does an Illinois airline worker need to hire a workers compensation attorney to work through a multi-state bureaucratic mess?

Yes and no. The starting point is to file a claim. For airline workers, this is generally done in the state in which they were hired, because when benefits are concerned, where the worker was hired matters more than where the accident occurred.

Airplane Crashes, Turbulence Cause Injuries and Deaths

Design flaws and equipment failures are common reasons that airline workers suffer work-related injuries and deaths. Flaws and equipment malfunction are just some of the causes of commercial airline accidents, however. Other common causes include:

  • Pilot error
  • Air traffic controller negligence
  • Improper maintenance
  • Violation of FAA regulations
  • Poor weather conditions

People who have been injured in an airline accident may be entitled to compensation in a personal injury, wrongful death, or class action lawsuit as well as through workers’ compensation claims.

Turbulence in flight might make passengers nervous. But for flight attendants, it can be the cause of serious injury that may ground them for months or years, sometimes ending their careers.

A survey of accidents by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) between the years 1980 and 2008 found that in 234 turbulence-related accidents nearly 300 people suffered serious injuries. Of those, 184 of the injured were flight attendants.

The types of injuries that flight attendants suffer include back injuries, fractures, and concussions. But even everyday flights in smooth skies can lead to back injuries, repetitive stress injuries, skin burns (upset coffee urns) and lacerations due to food cart malfunctions and, occasionally, unruly passengers.

Handling Baggage Improperly Can Cause Severe Injury

In-flight injuries aren’t the only ones that can cause serious impairments or death, however. Baggage handling can be a dangerous job. Lifting and transferring heavy bags often lead to severe injury if handlers do not take proper safety precautions. Recent ergonomic guidelines published by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration can help ramp workers cut their risk of an accident in the workplace.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the science of moving safely and efficiently while performing job tasks or other activities. It is a popular technique among many groups of people, from professional athletes to office workers. It is especially helpful for people who must move and lift constantly on the job. Training in proper ergonomics can cut the danger of disabling workplace injuries by as much as 80 percent, according to OSHA statistics.

Why do baggage handlers need ergonomics?

Baggage handlers are in special need of ergonomics because their job involves moving heavy objects at a fast pace in a high-pressure environment. Many times a day, they must handle suitcases and bags of unknown weight. High bag turnover and tight deadlines can contribute to unsafe practices and serious baggage handling injuries if workers are not trained in ergonomic techniques.

Ergonomic tips for ramp staff

Ramp workers can stay safer by paying attention to all of the following points:

  • Never lift while twisting or reaching out.
  • Place carts and belt loaders at a consistent height to avoid stooping or stretching.
  • Label all heavy suitcases with easily visible tags.
  • Take regular rest breaks and change working positions when possible.
  • Report all injuries to a supervisor at once, even if they initially seem minor.

When Airline Workers Are Injured or Become Ill

Lawsuits against major commercial airlines can be particularly challenging. Airlines typically hire a team of lawyers to represent the company in an attempt to defend against legal claims or to offer inadequate settlements to resolve the claims.

Home to two international airports, Chicago has workers compensation lawyers who are experienced at working through the complexities of an airline worker injury claim, negotiating with insurance companies, and uncovering third-party responsibility for on-the-job-injuries. Some airlines employees who were hired and who live out of state might be eligible to file a work injury claim in Illinois. And of course ground crew – gate agents, baggage handlers, office workers, etc. – are eligible for benefits in the state as well.

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