By Stephanie Riesenman for Veins1
Long haul air travelers who developed life-threatening blood clots after flying, as well as family members of those who died of the syndrome known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, continued their legal battle against 18 international airlines in the Court of Appeal in London on July 1st. The judges are expected to announce their decision on Thursday.
The two dozen victims were asking for the court to overturn a ruling made last December by High Court judge Mr. Justice Nelson, that the condition was not an “accident” under the terms of the 1929 Warsaw Convention; therefore the airlines were not liable for damages resulting from the passengers’ blood clots.
The original lawsuit involved 55 claimants who blamed the airlines for not warning passengers about the risks associated with DVT, which include cramped seating and sitting motionless for long periods of time. This is why DVT has also been dubbed “coach class syndrome.”
The 18 airlines involved in the case are: British Airways, China Airlines, Delta Airlines Inc., Qantas, Japan Airlines, Britannia Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Northwest Airlines Inc., Liat Limited, South African Airways, Monarch Airlines Ltd, Airtours International Airways, JMC Airways Limited, Air Europa, Virgin Atlantic, and Continental Airlines, and Malaysian Airlines.
DVT usually causes leg pain and swelling, but it can become fatal if the clot breaks loose from the veins in the legs and travels towards the chest, lodging itself in the lungs forming a pulmonary embolism. Several of the Brits suing are family members of travelers who died from pulmonary embolisms after long-distance flights.
There are 300,000 Americans diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism each year, while 50,000 die from the condition, but most of these clots do not occur after traveling in an airplane.
The airlines argue that DVT occurs because of immobility not because of flying. In 1985 a U.S. Supreme Court agreed, saying airlines are not liable under the rules of the Warsaw Convention for accidents that cause unexpected or unusual injuries resulting from “the passenger’s own internal reaction to the usual, normal and expected operation of the aircraft.”
The Warsaw Convention governs international travel and holds airlines liable for damages in the case of an accident. So, the issue is whether DVT, caused by the stagnation of blood in the major veins of the legs, should be considered an accident in which the airlines are responsible.
A study published in the June 26th issue of The Lancet addressed one hypothesis about flight conditions and DVT. Researchers at Oxford University found that the lowering of oxygen pressure in the passenger cabin had no effect on clotting factors in the blood. In other words, simulating flying at high elevations did not make the participants any more likely to develop a blood clot.
The study involved eight people who were placed in a chamber of normal oxygen pressure for eight hours on a selected day. Then they were placed in a chamber with oxygen pressure equivalent to that in an airplane for eight hours on another day. Blood clotting factors were measured after each session. The researchers write, “We measured no significant differences between control conditions and hypoxia,” which is a decrease in oxygen, and they recommended that a larger study be conducted.
DVT cases were tried around the world last year, and most were decided in favor of the victims.
American Airlines settled a case, Reynolds vs. American Airlines, for an undisclosed amount in Texas. Mike Reynolds was traveling from New York To Paris in 2001, when upon arrival he developed leg pain in his calf. He was treated for a DVT and has made a good recovery. That was the first time any U.S. airline had settled a DVT suit.
A judge in Galveston, Texas agreed to let a suit go forward in Blansett vs. Continental Airlines. Shawn Blansett, in his mid-30’s, claims he suffered a stroke during a flight from Houston to London, also in 2001.
And on the same day the London judge rejected the case against the 18 airlines, a judge in Australia cleared the way for a Sydney businessman to proceed with his suit against Qantas and British Airways in Povey vs. Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and Others.
The Povey case opened the door for a legal battle against CASA, Australia’s aviation watchdog, which began in February. The case involves 400 claimants and is being heard in the Supreme Court of Victoria State.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
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