No more lawsuit limits for passengers under proposed government rules

Editor’s note: This is part eleven in a series about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. You can read the entire document here (.DOC). Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at The future of air travel depends on it.

As someone who is currently being sued, you might think I’m the last person who would support a new rule that would allow more people to file a lawsuit against an airline.

But you’d be wrong.

True, getting sued is no fun. But I don’t think the airlines are having fun, anyway. Maybe their passengers will after this passes.

At issue is something called a choice of forum. Forum choice, in the legal sense, is a clause that allows the the parties to agree that any litigation resulting from a contract will be initiated in a specific court.

Until now, the law and airline contracts of carriage have limited that choice to certain federal courts, a practice the government now believes is wrong.

It is the Department’s view that for air transportation sold in the U.S., it would be an unfair or deceptive practice for the seller to attempt to prevent a passenger from seeking legal redress in any court of competent jurisdiction, including a court within the jurisdiction of the passenger’s residence, provided that the carrier does business within that jurisdiction.

Got that? If the airline flies to the place you live in, you’d be able to sue it there.

(The current limitation did not extend to small claims actions, but if someone had a more serious claim, they would have run into these limits.)

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The Transportation Department may also consider limiting the restrictions on venue provisions to ensure that customers have the ability to file claims in their state of residence, the state in which the ticket was purchased, or the state of the flight‘s origin and destination. That would give air travelers new and unprecedented flexibility in pursuing claims against an air carrier.

Although this is a relatively small change tacked on to a massive DOT rulemaking, it could end up giving the airline industry the biggest headache. Choice of forum provisions have immunized airlines against many legitimate lawsuits. This could hold the industry more accountable to its customers.

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?

The Rulemaking Series

I’ve written this series of posts in order to help you understand the Transportation Department’s proposed rules and offer the most informed feedback during its commenting period. Please take a moment to read them and then tell the government what you think at

Part 1: New tarmac delay contingency plans — what’s in it for you?

Part 2: Government will require airlines to offer “complete picture” of ground delays

Part 3: New rules would require airlines to meet “minimum” customer service standards

Part 4: Government to airlines: Put it in the contract!

Part 5: New requirements would force international airlines to monitor and respond to passenger complaints

Part 6: Everything you need to know about the new denied boarding compensation rules

Part 7: The truth about the government’s new “full fare” disclosure rule

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Part 8: Transportation Department wants airlines to reveal all fees and an airfare — or two

Part 9: New rule: No more price increases after you buy a ticket

Part 10: Airlines must “promptly” notify passengers of flight delays under proposed rule

Part 11: No more lawsuit limits for passengers under proposed government rules

Part 12: The hard facts about the peanuts-on-a-plane rule everyone’s talking about

If you have any feedback on this series, please send me an email. And thanks for reading.

(Photo: bill barber /Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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