Airlines are pretty specific about the allowable size of our carry-on baggage, but they don't say anything about how much our carry-ons can weigh. That distinction has some passengers facing lawsuits. Both passengers and airlines are being taken to court over baggage that gets dropped on the heads and shoulders of another passenger.
It used to be the biggest concern with carry-on baggage was shifting inside the overhead bin during flight. But with more passengers cramming carry-ons to the brim to avoid check baggage fees, the new concern is what might happen as people heave their heavy loads into the bin before the plane even leaves the gate.
"People are getting hurt," said Seattle attorney Jeffery Jones.
Jones specializes in aviation-related cases and sees lawsuits over carry-on injuries as a growing trend.
"We've had clients that have sustained brain injuries, severe neck injuries, required surgery, that type of thing," Jones explained.
Under terms of the cases he's been involved with, Jones says he can't discuss details, but warns that both passengers and airlines are paying the price when injured passengers sue to cover medical expenses.
Travel expert Gary Leff also sees a growing problem with carry-on injuries, because most airlines don't weigh carry-ons and -- thanks to the convenience of wheels -- most passengers don't give carry-on weight a second thought.
Leff logs tens of thousands of miles a year as a specialist in the frequent flyer industry. He routinely witnesses near-misses and, coincidently, has a friend who currently suing an airline over serious injuries caused by a dropped carry-on bag. But he says don't expect a carry-on crackdown anytime soon.
"Ultimately, what the airlines want is full flights that take off on time." he explained. "And they devise policies to incentivize making sure that happens."
Translation: The emphasis for airlines is getting the plane loaded for take-off as quickly as possible to stay on time. Despite the risks- experts believe overweight carry-ons will likely remain a low priority with most airlines- except in the instances when someone gets hurt and sues for damages. And the number of injuries is expected to climb.
The warning to passengers is to pay attention to how much you're putting in your carry on bags and don't be afraid to ask for help if you have trouble getting your bag in or out of the overhead bin. You might also want to check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure you have adequate liability coverage, in the unfortunate event that you are the passenger who injures someone and ends up being sued. And if you're sitting in an aisle seat- stay alert whenever someone's loading or retrieving baggage from the compartment over your head.