When A Suitcase Falls From An Overhead Bin, Who’s At Fault?

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An Oregon man filed a $49,000 lawsuit against Southwest Airlines earlier this week for allowing another passenger’s oversized suitcase to fall from the overhead bin as another passenger and a Southwest Airlines flight attendant were trying to stow the suitcase on a flight in January 2013 from PDX to LAS.

When A Suitcase Falls From An Overhead Bin, Who’s At Fault?

When A Suitcase Falls From An Overhead Bin, Who's At Fault?

Although this suitcase is not on Southwest Airlines, a lawsuit was filed against Southwest Airlines for luggage falling from an overhead bin.

According to The Oregonian/Oregon Live

Jerry Reinhardt suffered a compressed disc from the Jan. 17, 2013, incident as he sat in his seat, waiting for other passengers to board the Las Vegas-bound flight at Portland International Airport, according to his suit.

The other passenger was trying to shove the suitcase into the bin directly above Reinhardt’s seat when a flight attendant started to help, the suit states. That’s when the suitcase came crashing down upon Reinhardt, according to the suit.

The suit claims that the airline is at fault for letting the passenger board with a carry-on that was too large for the overhead bins. The suit also faults the airline for allegedly failing to train the flight attendant in properly placing luggage in the bins.

Southwest Airlines didn’t respond Wednesday to a request seeking comment. The suit doesn’t name the passenger with the suitcase and isn’t seeking damages from that person.

The article includes an on-line poll, asking readers Who is most liable?

  • Southwest Airlines: The plaintiff is right to sue the company — the overhead bins create a dangerous situation, especially when passengers lug on big bags.
  • The passenger with the suitcase: He or she was trying to game the system — and ended up hurting the plaintiff, according to the allegations in the suit.
  • No one: Accidents happen.

Bottom Line:

This is a tough one. I think passengers need to be responsible with their carry on luggage, making sure it appropriate in size and weight. I also think that airlines also need to enforce carry on policies and (gasp) use the sizing bins. I also think accidents happen! And as of publication, the voters of the on-line poll are also pretty evenly split on this one with 38 percent thinking the passenger with the suitcase is liable, while 32 percent think accidents happen, and 30 percent think Southwest Airlines is at fault.  I think carry-on luggage is just about 100 percent out of control.  What do you think?

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed.

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  1. As a layman I will venture that all are liable. The airline should have prevented this coming on board. The cabin crew, as employee of the airline should have insisted it go below. Once a crew was handling it the airline would be partly liable.
    I really feel bad for the injured pax, $49,000 sounds like a low starting point if he was really injured.

  2. Without a doubt – the airline. This would be a classic negligence case against the airline. The person with the bag may be liable too (assuming you know who it was and that they have money to pay damages).

  3. I’m a flight attendant (with another airline) and here is my opinion on the subject of carry-on bags…. You pack it, you lift it. I am not your Sherpa or your porter. Workers Compensation will not cover me for an injury resulting from lifting passenger baggage, so I don’t. It’s not my job. I will gladly assist by offering suggestions for better placement of items in the overhead bins, but I will not lift your heavy bags.
    Whether it’s because you don’t want to wait for your luggage at the carousel, don’t trust the airline not to lose it, or don’t want to pay the fees for checked luggage, more and more people are bringing more and more bags onboard. Yes the airline has a policy about how much you can bring onboard, but when dad checks in and mom waits off to the side with 5 bags how do you control it? Security certainly doesn’t. The agents at the gate try to catch whatever they can but their job isn’t checking luggage, it’s getting the passengers onboard in a timely manner to ensure an ontime departure (among other responsibilities). As far as I’m concerned y’all should pay for carry-on luggage instead of checked luggage. Maybe that way there wouldn’t be so much crap brought onboard, and those who really insist on having it and taking up space will be the ones who pay.
    As for who is liable….. The passengers. Be aware. Take your bloody headphones off, put down your phone and pay attention to what is going on around you. Or better yet, offer to help your fellow passenger struggling to put a bag away, especially if they are above you.

  4. I totally agree with charging for carry-on rather than checked baggage. I flew Frontier to Denver last summer, and happily checked my bag ($20 each way) and just carried on my CPAP machine (with my tablet in a side pocket, all of which easily fit under my seat) rather than pay $25 for a carry-on. It was one of my least stressful trips of the year. I didn’t have to worry about finding bin space or lugging around my bag. My carry-on rollerboard is at the maximum dimensions allowed by the airlines, yet is always one of the smallest carry-ons aboard…

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