Does Bringing Booze Back Open Up Southwest Airlines to Lawsuits?

ELI5: Negligence

The only thing worse than being the boisterous intoxicated person on an airplane is being the person sitting next to the boisterous intoxicated person—bonus points if you’re sitting in the middle seat. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, flight attendants at Southwest Airlines and those assigned to the middle seat were able to breathe a sigh of relief: the new Southwest alcohol policy took alcohol off the menu completely. But it didn’t last long: they’re bringing booze back and many are wondering, does the new Southwest alcohol policy open up the airline to lawsuits?


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Premises liability lawsuits are filed when a person is injured on another person’s property due to the negligence of the property owner. Property owners are responsible for ensuring that their property is safe for guests and, in the case of businesses, customers. So, if you’re at the grocery store, and you slip in a puddle of soda and break your back, the grocery store could be liable depending on the circumstances. This is because the grocery store is responsible for removing or repairing all hazards that exist on the property. If they knew, or reasonably should have known, that a hazard exists, and said hazard could harm visitors, the property owner is responsible for taking reasonable precautions promptly to ensure that visitors are not injured by the hazard. In the aforementioned hypothetical situation, the grocery store could reduce their liability by cleaning up all spills in a timely manner, and putting up a wet floor sign or having an employee stand by the puddle until someone can take care of it.


There’s also something called the dram shop rule. This rule states that a dram shop—meaning a place that serves alcohol—could be liable for the injuries an intoxicated customer causes to a third-party victim if the dram shop acted negligently when serving alcohol. So, imagine you’re at a bar. There’s an intoxicated gentleman who is becoming increasingly disruptive, even threatening other patrons. And, instead of refusing service, the bartender continues to give him drinks. Finally, the disorderly patron assaults the person sitting next to him. In this scenario, the bar could be liable for the assault victim’s injuries. This is because the bartender knew, or reasonably should have known, that the disorderly patron was becoming too intoxicated and likely to harm themself or someone else. Therefore, the bartender should have refused service.


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Here’s the thing: the dram shop rule and premises liability still exist on an airplane, despite the fact that an airplane is not technically a bar. The difference is that, due to the fact an airplane is around 30,000 feet in the air, it’s much more difficult to remove a disorderly person from a plane than it is to remove them from a bar. Though you’ve likely seen movies where people are dramatically tossed out of taverns, flight attendants have no such luxury when dealing with disorderly passengers under the influence of alcohol. But, they’re still responsible for making sure passengers who have ingested alcohol are not a danger to other passengers. So, how can Southwest Airlines reduce their liability when serving alcoholic beverages?


With the new Southwest alcohol policy, airlines can work to prevent premises liability claims. Depending on the specific airline’s policies, flight attendants and other officials may be trained to restrain intoxicated passengers who pose a danger to others. Depending on the severity of the threat the intoxicated passenger poses, a plane may have to divert course land early in order to protect the other passengers. Though an airline cannot entirely remove the threat of the intoxicated passenger, they can take steps to reduce the passenger’s ability to harm the other passengers. Airlines can also take additional measures to reduce liability by making sure flight attendants do not negligently serve passengers alcoholic beverages. Flight attendants should be keeping track of how many drinks a passenger has consumed. They should also be keeping an eye out for physical and behavioral signs that a passenger has had too much. If they believe that a passenger is becoming too intoxicated, the flight attendants should cut the intoxicated passenger off promptly.


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Though Southwest may be opening themselves up to additional liability by serving alcohol, it isn’t as if passengers have a free pass to act however they please. Passengers are responsible for their actions and behavior even if the airline has allowed them to have too much alcohol. In a personal injury claim, it is not uncommon for multiple people to have liability, and for plaintiffs to file a claim against more than one party. Therefore, if you become too intoxicated on an airplane, and you injure another passenger as a result, the injured passenger would likely have a claim against you as well as the airline.


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Though we don’t see many cases of flying under the influence, personal injury attorneys are no stranger to cases of driving under the influence. If you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s day with Irish whiskey and Guiness, please arrange for a safe ride home with a friend, ride share service, or taxi service. DUIs tend to increase around the lucky holiday; please do not be the reason another person is hiring the best car accident lawyer Utah has. And, at Moxie Law Group, we do have the best car accident lawyer Utah has. We consistently help our clients win the maximum compensation for their personal injury claims. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, contact Moxie Law Group for a free consultation.

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