Legal How-To: Dealing With Lost, Damaged Luggage - Law and Daily Life
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Legal How-To: Dealing With Lost, Damaged Luggage

Dealing with lost or damaged luggage during the holidays can be a major hassle. Fortunately, there's a system for working directly with the airline for compensation without filing a lawsuit.

Here are some general guidelines about how to deal with lost or damaged luggage:

Damaged Luggage

If your suitcase or belongings arrive smashed or torn, the airline will usually cover the cost of repairs. If it can't be fixed, they will probably negotiate a settlement to pay you the depreciated value of your items, according to the Department of Transportation's Aviation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement division.

To recover your costs, you need to show that the air carrier's rough handling caused the damage. Remember, the air carrier may reject your claim for compensation for damage caused by inadequate packing or the fragile nature of the broken item -- for example, if they were antiques, musical instruments, or jewelry.

If, at the time of check-in, the air carrier warned you that the questionable item might not survive the trip, you may have signed a waiver stating that you agreed to check the luggage at your own risk.

Lost Luggage

Once your luggage is declared permanently lost, you will need to submit a claim. This will begin your negotiations process with the airlines.

Airlines don't automatically pay the full amount of every claim they receive. Instead, an airline will use the claim form to estimate the value of your lost belongings. Like insurance companies, airlines will typically consider the depreciated value of your possessions, not their original price or the replacement costs.

Be sure to support your claim with sales receipts and any other helpful documentation -- especially if a large amount of money is involved. If you don't have records to back up your claims, expect a lengthier negotiation process.

Generally, it takes an airline anywhere from four weeks to three months to pay passengers for their lost luggage, according to the Department of Transportation.

Need More Help?

In general, airlines assert a limit on their liability for lost or damaged checked baggage. The rules of such limits differ for domestic and international flights, so you'll want to check with your airline. For more specific guidance about your lost or damaged luggage claim, you may want to consult an experienced aviation attorney near you.

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