Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Dog Dies in United Flight: Is the Airline Liable?

Traveling on an airplane requires passengers to obey various rules and instructions. So, when a flight attendant instructs you to do something, or cease doing something, you obey. After all, disobeying a flight attendant can result in anything from being kicked off a flight to fines from the Federal Aviation Administration to jail time, depending on the circumstances.

That's why when a flight attendant on United Airlines reportedly insisted that a family put their dog in an overhead bin, the family complied. Unfortunately, the dog ended up dying in the overhead bin.

How Did This Happen?

It's unclear why the flight attendant required the family to put their dog in the overhead bin. After all, the family had followed the rules for flying with a pet, including using a pet carrier that has been approved by the TSA. Passengers said that they had heard the dog barking during the flight, but when the family retrieved the dog after the 3 hour and 25 minute flight, the dog was dead. United issued the following response to hearing of the incident:

"This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again."

Holding Someone Accountable

When something like this occurs, it's common for people to ask if someone will be held liable. Generally, there may be some damages that can be recovered for the wrongful death or injury of a pet. First, there could be criminal liability if the conduct amounts to a violation of animal anti-cruelty laws. There could also be civil liability may also be imposed if the conduct that causes the death or injury is at least negligent.

In the case of the dog dying in the overhead bin of the United flight, it's unlikely that United will be held liable. United's policies make it clear that it's not their policy to place pets in overhead bins during flights. With that being said, the family may be able to sue the flight attendant who told them to put their dog in the overhead bin. Unfortunately, no matter who's held liable for this tragedy, it won't bring the family's dog back.

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