When Mai Le contacted us concerning her recent “near-fatal’ injury on Hawaiian Airlines, we were surprised to hear that the airline appeared to be unsympathetic to her plight. We suspected there was more to the story — and that was a correct assumption.
Le’s troubles began last year aboard a long-haul flight from Hawaii to Sydney.
“I suffered a near fatal injury and the staff could not give a !@#$, !!” Le told us. “A curtain rod fell on my knee and when I requested the staff to stop attaching the rod she refused to listen. This beam could have easily fell on my head or my mother’s head as she was sitting right under the rod. I would like compensation under the Montreal Convention for injuries caused during a flight.”
The value of Le’s claim? $100,000.
Let’s pause Le’s story for just a moment to explore the regulation that she is referencing.
Under the Montreal Convention, to which the United States is a party, Article 17: Death and Injury of Passengers details that:
The carrier is liable for damage sustained in the case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.
Further, under the terms of Article 21, a passenger is entitled to a maximum of 100,000 Special Drawing Rights if they have a documented injury aboard a flight or while boarding or disembarking from an aircraft.
Special Drawing Rights (SDR) is a type of international monetary unit that fluctuates daily. 100,000 SDR is currently equivalent to approximately $140,000.
But back to Le’s case.
When I read through the paper trail I noticed that the airline had repeatedly asked Le for her medical records concerning this incident. But none were included.
Bracing myself to be confronted with what I presumed would be gruesome reports and photos of the injury that almost ended her life, I asked Le to forward her medical report to me. Which she did.
And here is where the story goes south.
Le’s medical records consisted of one brief paragraph from her doctor, dated the day after her flight.
“As I was very busy (Ms. Le) had to wait almost one hour to see me,” the doctor wrote. “On examination there was a 3.5cm tender ridge over the upper patella (kneecap).”
The included X-ray summary noted that there were no abnormalities and, “The patella is normal.”
Now I was baffled by Le’s claim of her near death on that flight. I asked Le if this was the extent of her injuries and medical reports.
She then told me, “I realize the medical report states my knee has no physical injury, I was still very much inconvenienced for weeks in pain while going to work. I did all the right things and Hawaiian Airlines refuses to pay despite this being a requirement under the Montreal Convention.”
This is a thorough misunderstanding of the Montreal Convention. This regulation does not require an airline to make a 100,000 SDR payment simply because a passenger makes an injury claim.
There must be proof of an injury. And the 100,000 SDR is a maximum award, not a standard payment.
For its part, Hawaiian Airlines did not ignore Le’s complaint. In the paperwork that she forwarded, they responded to her requests each time by asking her to send her medical bills and reports for review.
Not feeling that her case was getting a proper response from Hawaiian Airlines, Le made a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration. An investigation was completed and the findings were forwarded to Le last month. That report notes that:
The FAA’s Flight Standards Service has completed their review of your concerns regarding a curtain rod which fell on you on Hawaiian Airlines flight 451 on April 27, 2016. The investigation could not substantiate a violation of an FAA regulation or Order. Additionally, the investigation determined a low safety risk of a curtain rod falling on the heads of future passengers as there are no known issues of reports of other falling curtain rods onboard Airbus A-330 aircraft.
When we decide whether we should take a case or not, we consider all aspects of the story. We are here because we want to help as many consumers as we can to receive fair resolutions to their complaints.
We carefully review each case and accept cases on their merits.
If we accepted every case that came our way without checking its merits, we would lose our credibility as consumer advocates. Ultimately, that would harm our efforts.
Unfortunately, for Le, this case does not appear to have merit. We are sorry to hear that a curtain rod fell onto her knee — but it clearly was not a “near-fatal” injury — in fact, her own documents point to a minor injury. We can’t support her pursuit of a $100,000 payment.
And so, with that, this case is closed.