Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 20, 2013

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The most common cause of injury in air travel is baggage falling from overhead bins. As many as 4,500 passengers are injured due to falling baggage every year. These accidents can cause serious and permanent injury to the head, spine or shoulders.

Bins are often designed in such a way that if a bin opens at the wrong time, bags and other items can fall directly on the passenger in the aisle seat. While soft bags (like messenger bags and laptop totes) often do not cause injury when they fall, rolling suitcases and other unusual items, such as picture frames or wheelchair parts, can cause serious injury when they land on a passenger.

If you’re injured by falling luggage, you might have claims against either the airplane manufacturer for the faulty or unsafe design of its bins (this would be a “product liability” claim) or against the airline for not being careful enough to ensure the bins are securely closed and latched before take-off (this would be a “negligence” claim). Product liability claims can be made against a component (in this case, the bin) manufacturer, the final manufacturer of the airplane and the various people involved in marketing the airplane. Negligence claims can be made against a negligent person, such as the flight attendant, the airline which employs that person or against the airline for setting standards that result in injury.

Bins should be designed safely so that they don’t come open during turbulence or rough landings and should be designed with safety features that prevent baggage and other items from falling if a bin does accidentally come open. Airlines should check to make sure all bins are securely fastened before takeoff and should restrict use of the overhead bins for items that are safe. Necessary items, like wheelchair parts that are dangerous to passengers if they fall, should be stored in a different place in the airplane.

Another frequent cause of in-flight injury is impact with the rolling carts used to serve food and drink. In one case, a passenger was rammed so hard in the shoulder by a food cart that it ripped out a prosthetic device that had been installed during shoulder reconstruction surgery a short time before.