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|Updated May 5, 2006|
Many of the world's major airlines have begun telling passengers how to avoid flight-induced blood clots. And many airlines have begun offering water at intervals, often holding up a plastic bottle to assure you they are serving bottled water, not the questionable water from the tank onboard. We applaud these steps but there is still more to be done.
Compared to the warnings regarding turbulence, very little is said about blood clots. Dimming the lights and closing the shades for the movie should be accompanied by a reminder to keep flexing the legs.
Lawsuits seem to get the airlines' attention. If you or someone close to you was a victim, you could help win airline cooperation by filing a lawsuit. You do not need to prove that your DVT/PE was caused by air travel. The lawyers do that. You would not have to pay legal fees or expenses. The lawyers' fees and expenses come out of the award or settlement, if any. Before signing a retainer agreement, review it carefully, perhaps with your family attorney.
If you are considering a lawsuit, be sure your attorney takes into account your risk of postthrombotic syndrome, PTS. Studies show forty to eighty percent of DVT victims later develop disabling PTS, with chronic swelling and pain, often with open sores spreading over the lower leg. If you spent weeks with swelling and pain before your DVT was treated, you probably had permanent damage to the veins that will lead to PTS.
5/5/06 O'Reilly & Danko, is still taking DVT cases. An airline motion for dismissal went to Judge Vaughn R Walker in the Northern District in December 05. (See below, 12/9/03: Northern District cases consolidated in his court.) No ruling yet.
7/26/04 The House of Lords, which serves as the supreme court in the UK, has agreed to hear the case of 8 victims of economy class syndrome. Arguments and ruling are expected sometime in 2005.
2/25/04 US Supreme Court rules in Olympic Airways v. Husain (see below, 11/12/03) that an airline's failure to take reasonable steps to prevent injury or death does make the airline liable for damages. The issue was whether the Warsaw Convention's definition of "accident" would rule out these lawsuits. This decision spells out that an accident is not one event but a chain of events in which one of the links may be someone's failure to act.
The written opinions explicity recognize the DVT lawsuits and this decision will probably influence decisons in the UK and in Australia, where the highest courts have not yet ruled on whether the Warsaw Convention frees airlines from any liability for DVT caused by air travel.
Husain's law firm was Sterns and Walker, a leading aviation law firm with headquarters in San Francisco. This firm is taking DVT cases. They are on the web at Sterns & Walker or telephone 415-255-4700.http://www.trial-law.com/
12/9/03 Judge Vaughn R. Walker conducted a Case Management Conference on 15 DVT cases pending in the Northern District. He had previously ruled that the Warsaw Convention does not call for dismissal of these cases and that all Northern District DVT cases be moved to his department.
One of these cases (not reported below) is that of Marsha Dabulis who suffered a DVT on a flight returning from Singapore. Her attorneys are Brenda D. Posada and Gerald C. Sterns of Sterns & Walker, 901 Clay Street, Oakland, CA 94607 (510) 267-0500.
11/12/03 US Supreme Court Several US economy class syndrome cases are on hold pending a supreme court decision in a related case, Husain v. Olympic Airways. Husain died of severe asthma attack after asking repeatedly to be moved further away from the smoking section. The stewardess refuse to allow him to move, saying (falsely) that no other seats were available. Husain's survivors argue that this constitutes an accident. Oral arguments were heard in the Supreme Court today and experts are predicting a decision in favor of Husain.
7/3/03 High Court of Appeals in the UK rules that economy class syndrome injuries were not accidents as defined by the Warsaw Convention, and plaintiffs cannot hold airlines responsible. The decision is being appealed to the House of Lords, which is the highest court in the UK. The House of Lords has already taken action to protect passengers and victims of economy class syndrome, which may indicate that a decision favorable to victims is likely.
7/1/03 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to rule on whether injuries suffered by Debra Miller and Daniel Wylie were accidents as defined by the Warsaw Convention. Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and his decision is being appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
6/15/03 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to rule on whether Shawn Blansett's stroke was an accident as defined by the Warsaw Convention. Judge Samuel B Kent had ruled favorably to Blansett and his decision is being appealed.
3/3/03 Lawyer's Weekly
The Reynolds v. American Airlines settlement was closely watched by airlines around the world, according to an article in Lawyers Weekly. Discussing economy class syndrome suits, attorney Mike Danko said: "We have evidence that many years ago, pilots were developing blood clots and the airlines redesigned the seats to alleviate that. (Distributing the weight more evenly.)"
2/18/03 State Attorneys General
Airhealth.org is asking state attorneys general to investigate a new complaint, that US airlines are causing injury and death by their failure to follow internationally accepted standards outlined in an International Air Transport Association statement February 8, 2001, saying that passengers should be advised about blood clots at the time of booking, before boarding, and again after boarding. Full text of Airhealth.org's letter to state attorneys general is below.
1/29/03 National Law Journal: An article in the National Law Journal reviews the status of suits, referring to American's settlement with Michael Reynolds as a "Landmark Settlement." It also quotes from a 2/8/01 press release from the International Air Transport Association saying that passengers should be advised about blood clots at the time of booking, before boarding, and again after boarding. US airlines continue to fail to follow these internationally accepted industry standards. Causing injury and death by failing to follow industry standards is criminal negligence.
Shawn Blansett, 36, a runner, suffered a stroke on a flight to London and sued Continental airlines, in Galveston. Continental moved for dismissal, arguing that the injury was not an accident under the Warsaw Convention. Judge Kent ruled against Continental and his opinion is expected to be published this week. Blansett's attorney, Truett Akin, said: "The Court denied Continental's Motion for Summary Judgment. This is a big win; we can proceed on the failure to warn claim! The Court prepared a well-reasoned 9 page order, in which it succinctly outlined the law. This will no doubt be published and be a great help to others.
12/11/02 American Airlines Settles
American Airlines announced settlement of a suit brought by a passenger, Michael Reynolds, who survived a pulmonary embolism after a flight to Paris. See National Law Journal.
Reynolds is Director of Airhealth.org. His Attorney, Frank Liuzzi, is with the firm O'Reilly, & Danko, which also filed the Debra Miller suit listed below. Their toll-free telephone number is (888) 608-7700.
Rietschel v. US Airways: A German citizen, Mr. Ernst-Wilhelm Rietschel, sued US Airways after suffering a DVT severely injuring his left leg on a flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt. He sued under article 28 of the Warsaw Convention, which gives injured passengers the right to sue in the home country of the carrier. US Airways won a dismissal which would have forced him to refile in Germany, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the plaintiff's right to choose the court and the case is expected to proceed. His attorneys are Gerald C. Sterns and Udo Budding of Sterns & Walker, San Francisco, California, (415) 255-4700.
11/30/02 Eliot Spitzer
Joe Baker, Chief of the Health Bureau in the New York State Attorney General's office says that one of the jurisdictional issues would be whether the FAA has jurisdiction. We gave him the name of the FAA official, Dr. Charles Reuhle, who told us that FAA's jurisdiction is limited to passenger safety, not passenger health.
10/29/02 Eliot Spitzer
Airhealth.org has called for an investigation by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into false claims leading to injury and death by US airlines and by the Air Transport Association. Asked for specific examples by Assistant Attorney General Marian Payson, Airhealth.org submitted a nine-item bill of particulars naming specific airlines, the Air Transport Association and the Aerospace Medical Association. The full text is available on request.
10/22/02, London, Daily Mail
Sixteen families of deceased victims of air travel thrombosis are calling for criminal prosecution of airline CEOs. The airlines named include American, Airtours, British Airways, Canadian, Emirates, JMC, Qantas, Singapore and Virgin. Roger Wiltshire, of the British Air Transport Association, said the industry had started advising passengers on avoiding DVT well before the Health Department's guidance was issued. Any charges would be vigorously defended, he added.
4/14/02, Debra Miller
A lawsuit was filed by Debra Miller, 37, who survived cardiac arrest after a flight from Paris. The cardiac arrest was caused by thromboembolism. Ms. Miller, the third runner to file suit against an airline, had run a marathon in Paris. Her attorney, Michael Danko, is in San Mateo and can be reached toll-free at (888) 608-7700. The number of athletic victims of air travel thrombosis who have contacted Airhealth.org is now 62, ten times more than the number associated with any other risk factor.
1/24/02, New York
Athletes Sue AirlinesCrippling Strokes Follow Flights to London
Two US athletes are suing airlines for failure to tell them how to avoid their crippling strokes. Richard Louie, 49, of Anchorage, Alaska suffered a stroke after a flight to London. Mr. Louie's doctors said a blood clot had formed in his calf during the flight and later moved to his brain, causing the stroke, and that if airlines advised passengers to flex their legs during flight, such clots could be avoided.
Mr. Louie, an avid runner, was known to other runners as "the rabbit" because he kept ahead of the pack. His suit was filed in Anchorage against Alaska Airlines, Boeing, and others. Airlines have long known that sitting for hours can lead to blood clots, and many have begun to warn passengers. US carriers refuse to warn passengers, saying the problem is rare in spite of evidence of thousands of deaths.
Shawn Blansett, 36, of Houston, Texas is filing this week in Galveston against Continental Airlines. Mr. Blansett suffered a stroke after a flight to London. His athletic activities included a weekly six mile run. His lawyer, Truett Akin of Galveston, said said that the objective of these suits is to win the airlines' cooperation in advising passengers of how to avoid these injuries. He said this is hundreds of times more important than the routine warnings about turbulence and luggage in overhead bins.
Athletes are at much greater risk of developing clots than other other air travelers, according to Airhealth.org, an advocacy group. They have identified nearly 100 such victims, far more than associated with any other blood clot risk factor. Dr. Patrick Reynolds, a physiologist, says: "Athletes, with lower blood flow in resting muscle, may be at greater risk of venous stasis, especially in the deep veins of the leg." Stasis means stagnant blood subject to clotting. Athletes may also be more likely to have bruises or sore muscles which can trigger clotting.
At the summer Olympics, three athletes on the British team were treated for DVT by Dr. David Grosser. Michael Reynolds, director of Airhealth.org, says that many others probably went untreated because DVT is usually diagnosed as a muscle strain or cramp. Other athletic victims include Pamela Nimmo, 23, Scotland's leading female squash player, who suffered a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung, after a 10 hour flight in February 2001.
Attorney for Shawn Blansett is Truett Akin, Galveston, 713-654-1818