Get ready for a flood of lawsuits from pilots, current and former, over jet fumes after a pilot prevailed over JetBlue in a disability-related compensation claim that is a first of its kind in the United States.
JetBlue Pilot Wins Compensation From JetBlue
Captain Andrew Myers flew with JetBlue for 15 years. But in early 2017 he became sick after an “acute toxic inhalation” incident. According to his lawsuit, the incident left Captain Myers with toxic encephalopathy, a neuro-cognitive disorder that caused permanent vision problems, tremors, stuttering, confusion, and migraines. The lingering effects effectively ended his piloting career.
The incident occurred on a particular Airbus A320 aircraft. Myers and his first officer noticed an odd stench and began to troubleshoot. While performing an engine check, the cabin filled with a pungent odor. Both men immediately experienced headaches and quickly vacated the aircraft. A maintenance crew determined that burning oil likely leaked through an engine seal into the ventilation system. Indeed, a thorough investigation later found the A320’s auxiliary power unit (APU) had cracked, causing oil to leak into the ventilation system.
Plagued with sudden and persistent health issues after the incident, Myers was forced to step down as pilot. After appealing to JetBlue for disability on the basis of the job-related injury, JetBlue refused, insisting “the condition did not exist and, if it did, the industrial injury was not a material contributing cause of that condition.”
In what can only be described as a landmark ruling, the State of Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board overturned repeated denials from AIG, Myer’s insurance company, and JetBlue that his sickness was not related to his job. Over the years, airlines have maintained that onboard fumes cannot cause illness or long-term damage. The administrative judge hearing the case disagreed.
Judge Darren Otto found a causal link between the onboard incident and the lasting damages to Myer’s health ordered that JetBlue and AIG fully compensate Otto for medical treatment and lost wages.
The ruling was dated July 31, 2020 and it was hardly a trivial matter. Judge Otto noted the difficultly of the case:
“This case involved more than half a dozen complex issues, thousands of pages of exhibits, two days of hearings, and many expert medical opinions whose complicated reports were fleshed out through depositions and live testimony. It is one of the most complicated cases I have been involved with during my 34 years of work.”
Judge Otto further ordered that the JetBlue pay Captain Myers’ hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees, additional reasonable expenses and costs for records, expert opinions, and witness fees, plus a 25% penalty for denying the claim.
You can read the full decision here.
These sorts of events happen all the time. In fact, there’s pending litigation in the United Kingdom after several similar incidents occurred to A320 pilots there. But this is a landmark case in the United States. Expect other captains, first officers, flight attendants, and mechanics to come forward as well to seek similar claims.