By Stephanie Riesenman for Veins1
Britain’s Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision that long-distance travelers who develop blood clots—known as deep vein thrombosis—could not sue airlines for compensation. But in that same week a federal court in San Francisco cleared the way for lawsuits against airlines that do not warn passengers about the risks of developing a potentially fatal clot.
Three senior judges in Britain dismissed an appeal by 24 people of a High Court ruling that said the airlines were not responsible when passengers develop deep vein thrombosis. They agreed with an earlier decision that blood clots cannot be classified as an accident under the Warsaw Convention, an international agreement that covers compensation for death and injury during air travel.
Had the appeal not been rejected, the decision would have led to a class-action lawsuit against 25 major airlines. Those include Europe’s biggest—British Airways, as well as Australia’s Quantas Airways, and U.S. carriers Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and American Airlines.
A lawyer for one of the 24 people said they plan to take their case to the House of Lords, England’s highest court.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that a California woman and a man from Arizona could seek damages in separate lawsuits alleging that three airlines did not warn them about the risks of deep vein thrombosis on long-distance flights.
Debra Miller of Oakland, Ca. claims she suffered a heart attack in April of 2001 after traveling from Paris to San Francisco on Air France and Continental Airlines flights.
Daniel Wylie of Anthem, AZ says he developed a blood clot in his right leg after an American Airlines flight in July of 2001 from San Francisco to Paris.
Cases like these have given rise to the term “coach class syndrome,” naming the theory that deep vein thrombosis develops as a result of sitting in cramped seats for long periods of time.
In fact, the British government issued an advisory back in 2001 recommending that airline passengers get up and walk around during their flights to avoid developing blood clots in their calves.
While it has long been established that the risk for developing blood clots in the deep veins of the legs increases with a lack of blood flow, there is no epidemiological evidence to confirm that flying actually causes these clots to form.
Deep vein thrombosis will often go away on its own, but when it doesn’t the obstruction of blood flow can lead to pain and leg swelling. Blood clots can become fatal when one breaks loose from the veins in the legs and travels through the circulation to the lungs. If the clot becomes lodged in the lungs it can form a pulmonary embolism, starving the body of oxygen.
To help prevent clots, doctors recommend getting up from an airplane seat to walk around during long distance flights to keep the blood flowing. For those with other risk factors for deep vein thrombosis—such as the elderly, those taking hormones, previous history of blood clots, varicose veins, or recent surgery—compression stockings may also be a good option.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
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