So you’ve decided to sue the airline you believe wronged you.
One option is to do so in small claims court.
A plus is you don’t need an attorney. In fact, you’re barred from bringing in an attorney. You represent yourself, which means you don’t have to pay an attorney–either up-front or at the end of the case.
Another plus: It will cost you far less to represent yourself than it will cost the airline to send a representative.
If you file in California and the airline is headquartered in New York, it will be expensive for them to send a rep to attend the proceedings. If the airline fails to send someone as its representative–which is highly unlikely–it loses by default.
A minus is that you may not be the confrontational type. You may also feel intimidated by the legal process–and afraid of looking like an idiot if you lose.
Another minus is that each state sets a different amount you can win in damages.
To learn about the rules applying to small claims courts in your state, consult the following link:
A second option is to take your case to civil court.
A plus is that the dollar-amount you can obtain at this level is far higher than in small-claims court.
A minus is that you’ll definitely want to retain an attorney.
True, you can legally represent yourself. But aviation law is complex. The airline will definitely have an attorney, so if you don’t, you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight.
If you can find an attorney willing to represent you on a contingency fee basis, you don’t have to pay him unless you win. His fee will then come out of your settlement amount.
Another minus: If you can’t find an attorney willing to take your case on this basis, you’ll have to pay him by the hour, after first putting up a retainer fee, which can be quite large.
A third minus is that the courts are clogged with cases, and it can take months or even years before yours will be heard.
And remember: The vast majority of cases–civil and criminal–are settled outside of court. In civil cases especially, judges strongly urge both sides to reach a compromise rather than duke it out in court.
And both sides are usually willing to do this, since there’s no telling how a jury might rule.
Finally, there’s the option of filing a class-action lawsuit.
A plus to this is that you’re not alone in your charge against the airline. Other passengers who have been similarly wronged are seeking damages, and so the spotlight is not on any one plaintiff.
A minus is that such cases are extremely complex and must be handled by experienced attorneys.
Typically, federal courts are thought to be more favorable for defendants, and state courts more favorable for plaintiffs. Many class actions are filed initially in state court. The defendant will frequently try to remove the case to federal court.
Another minus: If your side prevails, the amount of money each plaintiff receives will be far smaller than if the award were to be divided between a single plaintiff and his attorney(s).
Finally, even if you win, you can be certain the airline will appeal the verdict. Such appeals can go on for literally years.
On a more far-reaching basis, you can demand that your Congressional representatives support passenger rights through legislation.
Protections are especially needed when a single airline official–such as a steward–kicks a passenger off an airplane for reasons that have nothing to do with security.
- Two women kissing;
- A steward demanding whether a woman is wearing underwear;
- Another steward taking offense at a passenger’s request for help.)
During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Congress overrode only one of his 44 vetoes. In that case, Congress put a cap on the rates cable TV companies could charge.
They did so because their constituents had made clear their rage about high-priced cable fees.
Members of the Senate and House of Representatives will respond to constituent demands:
- If enough voters make their specific demands known; and
- If those voters make clear that ignoring their demands will guarantee defeat at the next election.
There are consumer rights organizations now pressing for vitally-needed passenger protections. These organizations need support–both in terms of members and money.
Only then can they counter the legalized bribes (known as “campaign contributions) the airlines offer to members of Congress.
An example is Flyers Rights, which can be reached at: FlyersRights.ORG – Largest Non-Profit Airline Consumer Organization.
Above all, remember: Airlines are run by corporations.
Their foremost concern is not your comfort or even safety as a passenger. It’s with further enriching their key executives.
You must be willing to stand up for your own rights–because the airline couldn’t care less about them.