Aviation Accidents: Where And When Must Lawsuits Be Filed?

Question: You board an airplane in New York, stop in Chicago, again in Los Angeles and then land in Tokyo, Japan. During the flight(s), a bag from the overhead compartment falls on your head and you’re injured. If you need to file a lawsuit, where and when must you do so?

The answer? “It depends.”

Although the question sounds a bit like an elementary school math problem, the answer can be tricky. In fact, knowing where and when to file an aviation accident lawsuit depends on many different factors. To explain how it works, we asked Larry Goldhirsch, a New York plaintiffs’ attorney with 38 years of experience whose practice represents aviation accident victims. He told us:

Personal injury cases have to be filed, generally speaking, within two years of the date of the accident if you’re talking about an international flight, because that’s the time limit prescribed under the Montreal Convention (a treaty which regulates international aviation accidents). In domestic cases, those that occur in the United States or from points to points in the United States, they have to be filed within the applicable statute of limitations of the place where the accident case was filed.

Where to file a case

To determine where a case would be filed, Goldhirsch provided the following examples:

  • An accident occurs in New York upon landing and a passenger wants to file a lawsuit in New York. New York statute of limitations for personal injuries is three years from the date of the accident. If the person was killed in an accident in New York, they would have only two years. In some cases, time limits not only depend on where the accident occurred, but where the person is from. So, sometimes New York will permit an accident case to be filed only within the statute of limitations of the state where the person is coming from to file in New York.
  • American Airlines has an accident with a passenger flying from New York to Chicago. The person lives in Chicago, but for some reason wants to retain a firm in New York. In that case, the New York court might look to the statute of limitations of Illinois to determine how much time the Illinois citizen has to file the case in New York. It gets fairly complicated, but the basic rule is that one state might borrow a statute of limitations from a different state to apply in the state where the suit is brought.

Goldhirsch says that the limit is generally two years from the accident if it’s an international flight and sometimes two years from the date of death or three years from the date of the accident for a domestic flight. However, he added, “It really depends on the state’s statutes of limitations at issue. Sometimes it gets tricky, so anybody who is injured in an accident should contact a lawyer immediately to find out because there are some states with a one year statute of limitations.”

As you can see, knowing where and when to file an aviation accident lawsuit requires the skill of an experienced lawyer. If you’ve been injured in an aviation accident and would like to discuss your situation with an experienced lawyer, please click here. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential.