Can you help me get $100,000 for my “near-fatal” injury?

By | May 4th, 2017

When Mai Le contacted us concerning her recent “near-fatal’ injury on Hawaiian Airlines, we were surprised to hear that the airline appeared to be unsympathetic to her plight. We suspected there was more to the story — and that was a correct assumption.

Le’s troubles began last year aboard a long-haul flight from Hawaii to Sydney.

“I suffered a near fatal injury and the staff could not give a !@#$, !!” Le told us. “A curtain rod fell on my knee and when I requested the staff to stop attaching the rod she refused to listen. This beam could have easily fell on my head or my mother’s head as she was sitting right under the rod. I would like compensation under the Montreal Convention for injuries caused during a flight.”

The value of Le’s claim? $100,000.

Let’s pause Le’s story for just a moment to explore the regulation that she is referencing.

Under the Montreal Convention, to which the United States is a party, Article 17: Death and Injury of Passengers details that:

The carrier is liable for damage sustained in the case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.

Further, under the terms of Article 21, a passenger is entitled to a maximum of 100,000 Special Drawing Rights if they have a documented injury aboard a flight or while boarding or disembarking from an aircraft.

Special Drawing Rights (SDR) is a type of international monetary unit that fluctuates daily. 100,000 SDR is currently equivalent to approximately $140,000.

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But back to Le’s case.

When I read through the paper trail I noticed that the airline had repeatedly asked Le for her medical records concerning this incident. But none were included.

Bracing myself to be confronted with what I presumed would be gruesome reports and photos of the injury that almost ended her life, I asked Le to forward her medical report to me. Which she did.

And here is where the story goes south.

Le’s medical records consisted of one brief paragraph from her doctor, dated the day after her flight.

“As I was very busy (Ms. Le) had to wait almost one hour to see me,” the doctor wrote. “On examination there was a 3.5cm tender ridge over the upper patella (kneecap).”

The included X-ray summary noted that there were no abnormalities and, “The patella is normal.”

Now I was baffled by Le’s claim of her near death on that flight. I asked Le if this was the extent of her injuries and medical reports.

She then told me, “I realize the medical report states my knee has no physical injury, I was still very much inconvenienced for weeks in pain while going to work. I did all the right things and Hawaiian Airlines refuses to pay despite this being a requirement under the Montreal Convention.”

This is a thorough misunderstanding of the Montreal Convention. This regulation does not require an airline to make a 100,000 SDR payment simply because a passenger makes an injury claim.

There must be proof of an injury. And the 100,000 SDR is a maximum award, not a standard payment.

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For its part, Hawaiian Airlines did not ignore Le’s complaint. In the paperwork that she forwarded, they responded to her requests each time by asking her to send her medical bills and reports for review.

Not feeling that her case was getting a proper response from Hawaiian Airlines, Le made a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration. An investigation was completed and the findings were forwarded to Le last month. That report notes that:

The FAA’s Flight Standards Service has completed their review of your concerns regarding a curtain rod which fell on you on Hawaiian Airlines flight 451 on April 27, 2016. The investigation could not substantiate a violation of an FAA regulation or Order. Additionally, the investigation determined a low safety risk of a curtain rod falling on the heads of future passengers as there are no known issues of reports of other falling curtain rods onboard Airbus A-330 aircraft.

When we decide whether we should take a case or not, we consider all aspects of the story. We are here because we want to help as many consumers as we can to receive fair resolutions to their complaints.

We carefully review each case and accept cases on their merits.

If we accepted every case that came our way without checking its merits, we would lose our credibility as consumer advocates. Ultimately, that would harm our efforts.

Unfortunately, for Le, this case does not appear to have merit. We are sorry to hear that a curtain rod fell onto her knee — but it clearly was not a “near-fatal” injury — in fact, her own documents point to a minor injury. We can’t support her pursuit of a $100,000 payment.

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And so, with that, this case is closed.

Should we have advocated for Mai Le?

View Results

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  • Alan Gore

    In today’s news there is a much better story from Hawaii, though this one is about Delta:

  • Altosk

    Ms. Le sounds like a professional litigant who just wants some easy money. File 13 this one, kids.

  • Kairho

    If she had sent in the bills she probably could have recovered the doctor, x-ray and maybe a small voucher or miles. But greed prevailed…..

  • Bill___A

    I hope no one eats smelly food near her, they could end up being sued for damaging her nose or causing a headache or something.

  • Rebecca

    In related news, Ms Le is taking lessons from sovereign citizens to learn how to file frivolous lawsuits that only make sense to her.

  • Bill___A

    I watched this video, and after it, for whatever reason, an “ad” came up saying “critical chrome update” but the URL was not from Google, so beware. On the subject of the family being kicked off Delta, it looked like they were trying to “rationalize” the rules. There are names on the tickets, and surely the father knew that. He’s wasting people’s time. Until or if the rules are changes, we work in the current rules. Did he buy a ticket for the baby on the United flight he took later? I bet not…

  • DChamp56

    Michelle, I hurt my thumb opening a bag of pretzels on my last flight. Can you get me just a measly $10,000 please! There should have been a warning label on the bag! *chuckling*

  • finance_tony

    I believe you should have advocated. It would have been fun.

  • Rinacres

    Delta was also ‘rationalizing’ the rules. The woman attendant told the father that the rules stated that per FAA rules, children under 2 are not allowed to be in a seat and MUST be held in a lap. FALSE. A child 2 and under can be in a (regulation) car seat in their own seat, if the seat is purchased. The father tried to explain to the attendant that the child was in a seat on the way out and she told him they broke the rules. WRONG. Delta was just trying to get double revenue. The father purchased the seat – it was his to use. He was even giving Delta more revenue as he purchased a full adult-fare for the seat, (for his 18 yr old son) and infant fares are usually only a percentage of the adult fare.

  • sirwired

    I wonder what rod she was talking about? The only curtain I can see on pictures of a Hawaiian A330 is the First/Coach curtain, and that should not be very heavy, if it’s a rod at all. Those are usually tracks securely bolted to the ceiling.

    Maybe she’s referring to a curtain in the gate area of the airport, and she’s stretching the definition of “while boarding an aircraft” to include it? (Certainly it would not be common to refer to a flight attendant as “staff”. while that certainly might apply to the airport employees.) I suspect “while boarding an aircraft” would refer to injuries sustained on airstairs. (As opposed to the gate or jetbridge, since the airline doesn’t have anything to do with them.)

    And certainly “Near-fatal injury” doesn’t refer to: “It’s theoretically possible I could have been seriously injured if something entirely different were to happen”. It usually means “Only through the miracle of modern medicine did I manage to barely survive.”

  • Lindabator

    how DOUBLE revenue when he never PAID for this – he bought a seat for his OTHER son, send him on a different flight and just thought they could use the seat on this one – no, not how it works

  • MarkKelling

    I too am confused about the curtain rod statement. I think it must have been in the boarding area as well.

    While most of the dividing equipment at the gates is now the standard posts with the retractable nylon strap, I do recall at one of the Hawaii airports there were fairly substantial metal post and beam type construction (chromed steel) with light weight curtain type material attached to indicate where lines should form. These did back right up to seats in the waiting area and I could see an injury happening if the beam fell out of the post and hit someone. But in no way would it come close to “near fatal” for an average adult.

  • Alan Gore

    To me this case turns on whether the older son who took a different flight got credit for his purchased seat on the disputed flight. If he did not, then so far as I’m concerned, father owns that seat and should have been able to use it for the toddler. The Delta FA lied about the FAA lapchild policy: A child under 2 may legally occupy a seat if buckled into a car seat in it.

    Good on the clandestine videographer for getting the recording. This would have been another he-said, she-said without it. It shows that pax must have an unlimited right to film incidents.

  • michael anthony

    They had bought 4 seats r/t. Sent son back early on a ticket he bought separately. Thus he still had the 4 seats purchased. (Baby was on lap to Hawaii). Thus that 4th seat was still his. They checked in, thru security and in plane, then suddenly Delta needs the seat. Yes, perhaps he should have said that at check in and been charged $200, or, maybe he did and was allowed on without charge. That does happen. We don’t know that part about what went down at check in. But for Delta to process and board and then go “oops” is Delta’s problem. Worst of all are the threats. “Take your children away”?????

  • BubbaJoe123

    The curtain rod (really, more of a track) on the plane is designed to be movable. It’s set up this way b/c a number of European carriers change the business class/economy configuration from flight to flight, depending on demand. The seats aren’t any different, but business class has better food, and the middle seat is blocked off. Still, unless the flight attendant used it like a club to beat this woman repeatedly, her claims of “near-fatal injury” are ludicrous.

  • Lee

    What curtain rods are there on a plane? That is what I would love to see explained. I love the FAA’s response – repeatedly mentioning “curtain rods” (3 times in one paragraph) as though it is a real hazard – almost like a joke on their part.

    This is ridiculous. Stuff happens. If I had really felt a bit of an issue if this happened to me, I might politely request some miles or something. But, “near fatal”? – Imagine what some people’s lives must be like if one considers something so minor to be near fatal.

  • cscasi

    The ticket was in the father’s son’s name and therefore, since the son flew home sooner and did not show up for this flight, the seat becomes open since he was a “no show”. It is not the father’s seat to decide what to do with. Sorry,

  • cscasi

    The seat was not in the father’s name, but in the name of his son. So, it was not his seat to use.

  • BubbaJoe123

    But, if they had just checked in and gotten all four boarding passes, it would have worked out fine. DL would never have known that the child sitting in that seat was “Bob Jones,” and not his older brother “Kevin Jones.”

  • Tim Mengelkoch

    I am surprised that you even published this “incident”. The story is ludicrous.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Curtain Rod ?……what in heaven’s name is she talking about ?

  • Éamon deValera

    Mentioning the wait in the physicians note makes it clear that the patient started complaining about the wait the second the doctor walked in the room. Sometimes it is wise to fire your customers, but that is very hard for a doctor to do for continuity of care reasons.

    She seems nuts to me.

  • joycexyz

    But they got the boarding passes.

  • John McDonald

    yes it sounds like he only had 3 boarding passes & the infant was on the manifest as just that, an infant, so Deltas computer showed there was an empty seat on the aircraft. Pretty sure there’s a maximum number of infants permitted on each flight.

  • John McDonald

    the older son, was not on the flight. If the passenger, had got 4 boarding passes, there probably would have been no issue at all. Deltas computer would not have shown an empty seat to give to another passenger. In Australia, you don’t need ID to board a domestic flight, just a boarding pass, which most people now print out at home. The whole security thing in the USA is out of control Should reintroduce profiling. It works. Stuff the lawyers (or better still start shooting them-the NRA could help)

  • Alan Gore

    We need to apply whatever degree of Congressional action and net shaming it may take to establish that under the circumstances described, YES IT IS THE FATHER’S PAID-FOR SEAT, and he gets to assign it to whichever son is on the flight. Don’t cede Delta the right to sell such a seat out from under you to get unearned double revenue. This is the sort of screw job that travelers are fed up with.

    Note that the flight was not oversold. Delta put a standby in the boy’s seat.

  • jsn55

    These are the cases that make the real cases so difficult to settle properly. A curtain rod? Such a sad tale from a deluded passenger.

  • pauletteb

    As noted above, “not how it works.”

  • Noah Kimmel

    you are wrong.
    “YES IT IS THE FATHER’S PAID-FOR SEAT, and he gets to assign it to whichever son is on the flight” is simply not accurate. If the person whose name is on the ticket does not board, the ticket does not belong to whoever holds the magic paper (boarding pass) at that time. Sorry. Delta is allowed to take the seat back for a no-show.

    The delta agent handled the situation poorly, no doubt about it. But the fact is, the seat is Delta’s at that point, no one elses.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I mean, to be fair to her, it was obviously painful enough that she went to a doctor and got x rays the very next day…
    but medical bill reimbursement is reasonable, $100k with no medical problem is not

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