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DVT Study May Clot 'Economy Class' Lawsuits

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 08, 2012 5:02 AM

Staying seated on long plane flights may be hazardous to your health, according to a new study that seems to debunk some claims in so-called "economy class syndrome" lawsuits.

The study and the lawsuits involve deep vein thrombosis, or DVT -- when a blood clot forms in a vein, usually in the legs, and causes painful swelling. The clot can dislodge, block blood flow to vital organs, and can even lead to death, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Passengers who develop DVT on plane flights have sued airlines for negligence, as ABC News has reported. But the DVT study partly debunks some key arguments for "economy class syndrome," and lawyers and passengers may want to take note.

"Economy class syndrome" lawsuits generally accuse an airline of negligence based on two theories:

  1. The airline knew about the risk of DVT, but failed to tell passengers to get up and move around to reduce the risk of blood clots, and
  2. The airline knew that cramming seats into the economy cabin would reduce leg room and increase passengers' risk of developing blood clots.

The DVT study, published in the medical journal Chest, seems to debunk the economy-class leg room argument. The study found no difference in DVT rates between first- and economy-class passengers, Fox News reports.

It's not leg room, but rather the act of remaining seated that increases the risk for deadly blood clots, the study found. Sitting on long flights of eight hours or more also increases the risk of developing DVT; a passenger's age, obesity, and medical history are other factors.

Passengers in window seats are at the highest risk, because they're less likely to get up and move around, the study's authors said. (Perhaps we'll be seeing a new rash of "window seat syndrome" lawsuits?)

But there is a silver lining in the DVT study, conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Canada: Plane passengers can reduce their risk of developing blood clots simply by getting up, walking around, and stretching their calf muscles.

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