“Sorry I have a headache today” – Aircraft air contamination/Toxic air poisoning

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Over the past few years news coverage has steadily increased concerning airline pilots in commercial airlines that have been exposed to chemicals in their cabin which has resulted in brain damage of various degrees of severity. This is a rather sad development. As it is, pilots already work under huge stress not only doing the critical stages of take off and landing but having to travel around the world away from their families.

I appreciate some of you readers may think, Here we go again – ambulance chasers looking for another opportunity to make a killing. But, it is important to remember most pilots are employees of airlines and therefore the airlines as employers have a duty of care both in the law of negligence and also in their contract of employment to provide a safe system and a safe environment for the pilots to operate.

The cabin in an aircraft is a pressurised environment 47,000 feet in the air and thus the employers have a duty to make sure that they take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that the contents of the air that the pilots breathe in the cabin is as safe as is reasonably possible in the circumstances.

On the face of it, the recent news coverage indicated that pilots have suffered brain damage as a result of a chemical that was found in the air in the cabin and that this damage to the brain has occurred over several years. Prima facie there appears to be negligence and/or breach of the airlines obligation to the pilots both in the law of negligence, contract and also in breach of rules and guidelines set by Parliament as set out in Health and Safety Rules.

Remedy Available to Pilots:

A pilot can pursue a claim against the airline for the injury suffered and any other consequential loss. However, the pilot would have to overcome the legal requirements that the airline are in breach of their duty of care or are in breach of specific rules and regulations.

As in asbestos cases, the date of knowledge of the airlines and/or knowledge available to the airline industry at the material time would be of importance (see our recent article where we considered the following judgement: Terence Charles Abraham v G Ireson & Son (Properties) Ltd 2009). If it transpires that the chemical which has caused damage to the pilots brain is known in the industry to cause such damage and there is evidence that the airlines had been aware of that for some time and its leakage into the cabin but have not taken reasonably practical steps to safeguard the pilots then there would be a breach of duty of care.

In addition, there are statutory rules and regulations set by Parliament and as an employer an airline would have had to comply with those. It appears that the airlines may not have complied with those and thus may be legally responsible to the pilots.

Whilst this could be described as another personal injury claim it is such a specialist area and anyone in an unfortunate position to have suffered an injury in this environment should consult a specialist personal injury lawyer. There are so many personal injury lawyers and therefore it is important that you find and locate a specialist who would have experience of dealing with claims arising out of employer/employee relationships.

If you have any specific questions or wish to obtain further information please contact Abdul Hafezi on 0207 377 0600.

Alternatively, click on the following if you like to know more about Accidents at Work or Accidents in Public Places.

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