Airline Being Sued Over Brain Injury Supposedly Caused By Turbulence

Filed Under: American

Every so often we hear about extremely turbulent flights, many of which even cause injuries when people aren’t properly buckled in. For example, in 2014 we saw footage of an American Airlines flight enroute from Seoul to Dallas encounter severe turbulence, causing the flight to divert.

Usually injuries as a result of turbulence arise from people not being buckled in, causing them to sustain physical injuries.

However, the Daily Mail has the story of a different type of injury that supposedly resulted from a February American Airlines flight departing Guadalajara:

The 44-year-old was returning from a work trip in Guadalajara, Mexico, on February 27 when his flight to the American state of Arizona hit a thunderstorm.

Dr Winchester said the turbulence was ‘violent’ and caused him to lose consciousness twice.

He said the injury was so severe, doctors told him he was lucky there was no turbulence on his connecting flight to Australia, as he could have had a fatal brain haemorrhage.

He now also suffers from neck, head and back injuries, whiplash, concussion, severe headaches, post-concussive syndrome, tinnitus, vision problems and mental health issues, according to a writ filed in the Victorian Supreme Court on Thursday.

His wife, Monash University academic Tiffany Winchester, was also suing the airline, claiming nervous shock and mental injuries, including insomnia, depression and panic attacks, over her husband’s injuries.

It seems like the reason he’s suing is because the airline didn’t provide him medical attention after the flight, even though they offered and he rejected it. He thinks they should have insisted:

Dr Winchester said after the flight, he told cabin crew he was not feeling well and at first declined medical help, but then he had trouble balancing as he left the aircraft.

He believed that’s when staff should have insisted on getting paramedics.

I certainly feel bad for his condition. I would have never expected turbulence as such could cause a brain injury to occur without a pre-existing condition (then again, I’m not a doctor).

If I’m understanding this correctly, his primary complaint is that they didn’t force him to get medical attention, rather than the turbulence as such (which is sometimes unpredictable and unavoidable). Could the flight attendants really have forced him to get medical attention when he rejected their offer?

What do you make of this story?

  1. What I find interesting here are a few things.
    -He is filing suit in Australia against AA for a flight that occurred between the United States and Mexico, so this suit should have been filed in the USA as their contract of carriage is governed by Texas law.
    -There are no flights from Arizona to Australia so he had to connect somewhere, why is that not stated anywhere.
    -he was offered medical assistance and declined so how can AA be negligent.

  2. He was offered medical attention and said no. CASE CLOSED.

    His own fault and now in the world where we try to sue everyone, he’s trying to get something out of it. I mean he can’t be that broke being a Doctor to start.

    I’m always twice as disgusted by his wife trying to claim for emotional distress, OH COME ON !

  3. @Brad B
    “-he was offered medical assistance and declined so how can AA be negligent.”
    Because :
    “He believed that’s when staff should have insisted on getting paramedics.”
    But suing someone is popular now a days, but many cases is thrown out by the court, but i never sees to be amaze by the opportunistic plaintiffs.

  4. I am not a lawyer but I would think that when there is evidence of being not well they might assume his judgement is off and ask again or overide his refusal.

    I was once overnight at a medical center ER in Jerusalem. A teenager was held for observation because she had head trauma being hit by something that fell out of the overhead bin. They were very concerned about her annoyed attitude and tried to relay that to her (MD) Father. To me it really just seemed to be typical rich kid attitude and not a brain injury. The kid was full of threats to suee staff and they only got more concerned and refused to discharge.

  5. So let’s say they insisted he got medical care, after he refused the first time. They call 911 and wait for paramedics to arrive. Let’s say a 5-7 minute response time. Okay, what now? Do they prevent him from leaving against his will? And now they’re charged with false imprisonment? This is an obvious money grab and I hope it gets thrown out. The airlines’ duty to act ended when he declined their help.

  6. They’re both marketing lecturers/profs. Not sure what that has to do with it, but marketing was my least favorite course of study in business school.

  7. I’m not even sure why the airline is liable for offering medical assistance. Turbulence seems like something that the airline would have no control over.

  8. It’s an interesting question, similar to being able to give consent while intoxicated: can a concussed person make reasonable decisions about themselves? Probably not. At the same time, flight attendants aren’t nurses/doctors. Maybe in cases such as this the airline should ensure there are medical professionals at the gate when the plane arrives to quickly triage people incases they can’t decide for themselves.

  9. Now AA will have to include in their terms and conditions that if anyone should decline assistance offered, they will not be liable and AA will not be liable for turbulence related effects such as…. etc etc etc… Hmmm, sounds like the McD coffee case… LOL!

  10. @Matt–This is not an attack on you, but to require medical professional to be at the gate for triage is crazy.

    This seems like a ridiculous case. I do understand that he may not be able to give informed consent regarding medical care IF he actually had any brain injury, but I really doubt that’s the case here. Also, if his wife thought he was not his usual self, why didn’t she insist on him receiving medical care.

    In any case, interesting event, but I feel like I’ve already spent too much time thinking about this ridiculous couple and their blatant money grab.

  11. I had a friend suffer a concussion during a sporting event, she was delirious and emotional (quickly swinging from tears to laughter and back, a result of the concussion). She refused to seek medical attention.

    The on-field paramedics concurred she needed help, we called for an ambulance, they concurred, but she kept refusing. That’s when some of us on the team had a side discussion with the ambulance paramedics, and they explained how we could “trick” her into going with them to the hospital. We did.

    After some head injuries, you’re not in a sound state of mind. You’re not capable of taking care of yourself. You are best off if somebody steps in to help.

    You can’t legally force a person in that situation to get medical attention. But there are tactics you can (and sometimes should) use to get them help.

  12. @lucky: you fly about 400k miles a year. I’m terrified of this kind of turbulence. How often do you encounter this type of turbulence?

  13. @Andy agree but at the same time what matters is what American legally has to provide. I feel as though they met the standard required for care. The passenger refused care and they couldn’t force him to go. @Gaurav I believe because of how laws are written with regards to commercial carriers that is why they are liable for medical treatment. Act of god defenses are not usually valid in airline cases. A good lawyer could argue that the airline should have avoided the air pocket/weather ( I know not always possible). But this is baseless cause he refused medical attention. The airline could not force him to go against his will. @Charles well that may be true outside of the US. In most states, the only way for a medical professional to force someone to get treatment against their will is a court order. It’s not like they could have told him we are detaining you until a court decides.

  14. Another sham lawsuit…. What were they supposed to do???? Force him, and then have the blood sucker sue the airlines for that too. And the poor wifey is throwing everything their “lawyer” can come up with too.

  15. @Lucky You missed the best part. “His wife, academic Tiffany Winchester, is also suing claiming nervous shock and mental injuries, including insomnia, depression and panic attacks, over the injuries suffered by her husband.” Their lawyers are one of the biggest ambulance chasers in Australia.

  16. Was he wearing his seatbelt at the time of the incident? If no, case closed — his fault. If he was, case closed — Act of God.

    Unless he can prove the pilot was intentionally aiming for the turbulent air (good luck with that one!), he has no chance. Nor should he.

    Keep in mind people, often healthy teenagers, die in routine life events from previously unknown pre-existing medical conditions. A few die every year in theme parks and high school sports…and those are healthy teenagers.

  17. @Joe: Turbulence of this severity is quite rare. While unpleasant for passengers and possibly dangerous for anyone not wearing their seatbelt, the aircraft are designed to take it, especially at cruising altitude.

    Now, turbulence like this at lower altitudes, especially on climb-out or final approach is a problem and has caused many accidents over the years. Fortunately, technology, knowledge, and weather forecasting have severely reduced near-ground turbulence-caused crashed.

  18. “Hmmm, sounds like the McD coffee case… LOL!” – @PY

    @PY, you’re right that this suit against AA sounds like a frivolous money grab, but that makes it *nothing* like the McDonalds coffee case. You should watch the documentary “Hot Coffee” (it’s available on Netflix). What you’ve been led to believe was a frivolous lawsuit against McDonalds was actually a reasonable request that was refused and led to a giant smear campaign to cover willful disregard for customer safety.

  19. @AlexS: I know it is quite rare, and place are designed to handle it. I have only experienced once, and have no desire to do so again. I don’t like roller coasters! Just curious how many times folks have experienced this in there many travels.

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