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What is Southwest Airlines’ Liability After Horrific Ordeal?

What is Southwest Airlines' Liability After Horrific Ordeal? Image courtesy of https://www.ntsb.gov/Pages/default.aspx

Southwest Airlines, particularly pilot Tammie Jo Shults, is getting a lot of kudos from passengers and the nation at large for the pilot and crew’s courageous efforts to minimize injuries and loss of life. According to news reports, the Dallas-bound Boeing 737 was just outside New York when an engine blew sending shrapnel along the fuselage and smashing a window. One passenger, Jennifer Riordan, was sucked out and killed while seven were wounded. Others were certainly rattled and traumatized by the ordeal they suffered until Shults valiantly landed the plane.

The Issue of Proper Maintenance

While the crew and pilot should be praised for their efforts to safely land the plane, there is also the question of whether Southwest should still be held liable for what happened to the passengers, and even the crew? The answer lies in the fact that the airline is responsible for maintaining the aircraft. If the engine blew apart, was that because the aircraft was not properly or adequately maintained? That is, in fact, the multi-million-dollar question here.

It is likely that several lawsuits will stem from this incident against Southwest Airlines. It is also likely that other parties such as Boeing, the manufacturer of the aircraft, or the builder of the engine, which exploded and caused this fatal incident. Under federal laws, Southwest, as a mass carrier, owes the “highest duty of care” to its passengers. This means that the company is responsible and is legally obligated to transport its passengers safely.

Did Metal Fatigue Play a Role?

The ongoing investigation of the aircraft in question will be able to offer a number of answers in the coming weeks and months. According to an article on USA Today’s website, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has narrowed the focus of its investigation on metal fatigue on a fan blade that broke in the engine.

Last year, Southwest Airlines opposed a recommendation by the engine manufacturer to require ultrasonic inspections of fan blades in the engines within 12 months, saying it needed more time to do the work. It is not clear what role metal fatigue played in this incident. Could this horrific incident have been prevented had Southwest done those inspections?

Injuries and Liability

According to reports, it is not quite clear what types of physical injuries the seven people sustained. Riordan’s family could have a wrongful death lawsuit against Southwest Airlines and the other injured victims may be able to seek compensation for the injuries, damages and losses they have suffered. As we well know, other passengers who escaped without physical injuries could still be suffering from serious psychological issues including post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Those passengers may be able to seek compensation from Southwest and other involved parties for pain and suffering, treatment costs and emotional distress as well.

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