Every day, 2.7 million people board airplanes in the United States. That’s almost a billion people per year.
Given the number of people that are flooding planes and the amount of flights that are coming in and out of airports to accommodate that traffic, mistakes, inconveniences and accidents are bound to happen. If you’ve been on the negative end of a bad airline experience, you may be entitled to compensation.
Below, we share steps that you can take to get the damages you’re owed which includes details on suing an airline in small claims court.
1. Consider Hiring an Attorney
Depending on how big of a grievance you encountered, you may want to consider hiring an attorney when preparing an airline lawsuit.
If your issue is connected to an injury that you incurred on a flight, most lawyers will work for your on contingency. That means that they’ll represent you for free on the promise of collecting a portion of your winnings after your case has subsided.
If your grievance is related to mistreatment or incompetence, you’ll need to pay your attorney hourly which you’ll have to weigh the total cost of in relation to how much money you stand to win from your case.
2. Attempt to Resolve the Issue With the Airline
Suing an airline can be an arduous process. That’s why our team recommends trying to work directly with the airline before taking further action.
Here are two avenues that you can go down to try to work things out:
Call Customer Service:
Every airline has a customer service number. Call that number and calmly let the agent on the phone know about your experience and the damage their mismanagement caused you. The airline may be willing to offer you compensation directly for your grievances.
Be aware that accepting compensation from an airline may dilute your ability to collect more from them later on in a legal proceeding. Therefore, if you’re offered compensation that you feel does not align with the severity of your claim, you should decline.
Fill Out a Complaint Form:
Airlines have complaint forms that you can download online or pick up from their corporate office. Get your hands on one of those forms, fill it out and mail it in.
You should receive a letter back with the airline’s response in 3 to 5 weeks.
3. Contact the Department of Transportation
If you were not able to come to a favorable resolution with the airline directly, you can take the matter to third parties.
To start, fill out a complaint with the Department of Transportation. The Department of Transpiration is a government-run, consumer rights organization that can levy penalties against airlines for not adhering to requirements.
You can fill out a D.O.T. complaint here.
4. Take the First Step Towards Suing an Airline
With your complaints recorded with the airline and with the Department of Transportation, it’s time to take steps towards legal action.
Suing an airline in small claims court will require that you head down to your County Clerk’s office to fill out a claims form. Once the form is filled out, you’ll have to pay a filing fee and turn it in.
With your claim filed, the county will give you copies of your documents and your court date.
5. Serve the Airline
When you file a lawsuit, you have to serve a copy of the documents that you received from the country clerk to the defendant so they know that they have to appear in court. The easiest way to serve court documents to an airline is to look up which of their departments handles legal matters. Then, send your documents via certified mail to that department.
If your documents are received, you’ll get a receipt from the post office that says so. Hold onto that receipt to prove to the judge that you served the airline if they don’t show up.
6. Prepare Your Case
With your small claims court date looming, you’ll have to start collecting evidence and preparing your case. This process can be time costuming and may require legal expertise to ensure that you’re ready for what’s to come. Working with a lawyer can make things a lot more manageable.
If you do choose to hire an attorney, in addition to helping you prepare your case, they can also stay in contact with the airline’s legal team to hopefully reach a settlement that would allow you to skip court altogether.
7. Present in Court
If no settlement is reached by the time your court date arrives, you’ll have to appear in front of a small claims judge to make your argument. With legal representation, you just need to sit quietly while your lawyer argues on your behalf. Without legal representation, you’ll have to conduct your own proceedings which can be intimidating but is certainly possible if you listen to the judge’s directions.
At the end of your hearing, the judge will reach a verdict and you’ll know the outcome of your case.
Wrapping Up Our Compensation Getting Guide
When you’re wronged by an airline, your focus should be on getting compensated for your troubles. Whether that compensation comes from a customer service representative, a Department of Transportation complaint or via suing an airline shouldn’t matter to you.
We’ve presented you with a number of compensation getting options, one of which we’re confident will get you what you deserve if you have a valid complaint. Our team wishes you the best as you manage your airline grievances and invites you to check out more of the finance-focused content that we publish on our blog every week!