December 17, 2002 - American Settles 'Economy-class Syndrome' Suit
American Airlines has agreed to what apparently is the industry's first settlement of a lawsuit claiming that sitting in a cramped seat on a long flight caused the development of potentially deadly blood clots in a passenger's legs.
The settlement of the U.S. lawsuit could affect a potentially precedent-setting British case against 27 international carriers.
The carriers are accused of not warning passengers that sitting through long flights in coach seats can cause deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
Plaintiffs' attorneys have dubbed the malady ''economy-class syndrome.''
Tara Baten, an American spokeswoman, confirmed the settlement in the U.S. case, but refused to elaborate, citing a confidentiality agreement.
The case reportedly involved a woman flying from Paris to the USA.
The British case, which involves more than 50 plaintiffs, is pending before a London court, which will decide if it can go to trial.
Plaintiffs' attorneys have attributed at least one death to DVT developed during a long flight. They also claim that the low level of oxygen in the cabin air aboard jetliners contributes to DVT.
The American settlement ''is definitely important,'' says Stuart Cakebread, a lawyer for the British plaintiffs. ''I am very pleased that they have accepted responsibility and would hope they do the same here.''
But Philip Bass, who represents the airlines in the British case, says the U.S. settlement won't harm his side.
''Just because one case is apparently settled in the States does not invalidate our defense of the cases in the U.K., where there are strong grounds for rejecting liability,'' Bass says.
The British plaintiffs argue that their case has merit for going to trial based on the 1929 Warsaw Convention, which says airlines are liable for damages in the case of accident.
The airlines argue that they can't be blamed because DVT is not caused by an accident.
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