Did an in-flight injury really nearly kill her?

Did an in-flight injury on Hawaiian Airlines really almost kill her?

When Mai Le contacted the Elliott Advocacy team concerning her recent “near-fatal’ in-flight injury on Hawaiian Airlines, we were surprised to hear that the airline appeared to be unsympathetic to her plight. I suspected there was more to the story. That was a correct assumption.

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

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“I suffered a near-fatal in-flight injury on Hawaiian Airlines and the staff could not give a [email protected]#$!!,” Le told me. “A curtain rod fell on my knee and when I requested the flight attendant to stop attaching the rod she refused to listen. This beam could have easily fallen 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 my in-flight injuries.”

The value of Le’s claim? $100,000.

An in-flight injury compensation claim

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

Under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention,  Death and Injury of Passengers:

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 in-flight injury or have been injured while boarding or disembarking from an aircraft.

Special Drawing Rights (SDR) is an international monetary unit that fluctuates daily. 100,000 SDR is currently equivalent to approximately $146,000.

But back to Le’s case.

Hawaiian Airlines wants supporting medical evidence

When I read through the paper trail, I noticed that the airline had repeatedly asked Le for her medical records concerning this incident. But Le had not included any.

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

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.”

A misunderstanding of the Montreal Convention

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

“I realize the medical report states my knee has no physical injury,” she told me. “But I was still very much inconvenienced for weeks in pain while going to work. And 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 in-flight injury claim.

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

Official response

For its part, Hawaiian Airlines did not ignore Le’s complaint. In the paperwork that she forwarded, the airline 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. The FAA completed an investigation and forwarded its findings to Le. 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.

Case Dismissed

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

Should we have advocated for Mai Le?

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40 thoughts on “Did an in-flight injury really nearly kill her?

    1. 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…

      1. 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.

        1. 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

          1. 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”?????

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

          3. 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.”

          4. 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.

        2. 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.

          1. 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)

        3. 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,

          1. 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.

          2. 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.

  1. 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…..

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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*

  5. 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.”

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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

      1. Unless it wasn’t painful at all; and she simply went to a doctor to bolster the potential for a claim. But then again I’m pretty cynical…

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. It would be interesting to know if she’s filed any other suspicious claims in the past. Sadly, there are people who want to game the system by falling down in Supermarkets and filing claims against the owners as a substitute for working for a living.

  10. I voted yes, but certainly not the maximum. She would be entitled to her out of pocket costs for treatment. If she was insured, just her copay and deductible.

  11. Sounds like someone was trying to play the Lawsuit Lottery, and didn’t have the “winning numbers.” She needs to listen to the Eagles’ song, “Get Over It”, more specifically the verse that says “You say you haven’t the been the same since you had your little crash, but you might feel better if they gave you some cash…”

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