What You Should Know to Sue an Airline in Small Claims Court over Lost Luggage - dummies

What You Should Know to Sue an Airline in Small Claims Court over Lost Luggage

By Judge Philip Straniere

Lost or damaged luggage is one of the major headaches of travel. Many people often want to use small claims to recover the value of items lost with their luggage. Most often, the luggage isn’t lost, it’s merely misplaced, having gone to Sheboygan rather than accompanying you to Chicago.

If you’ve never had your luggage go astray, you probably know someone who has. But bags can also disappear forever into the night or can be mashed to pieces when a truck accidentally backs over them.

Lost, broken, or misplaced luggage cases (no pun intended) are often brought in small claims court because the value of the property lost fits under the small-claims limit. Unfortunately, unless you declare the value of the property ahead of time and notify the airline, and then purchase insurance, the monetary recovery for lost luggage is limited.

International flights are covered by the Warsaw Convention and the more recent Montreal Protocols — two documents that you didn’t even know exist, but the airlines are very familiar with.

These documents cover all international travel within the countries that signed the agreements, which is pretty much every country, and limit your rights concerning lost luggage.

If you didn’t buy additional insurance, your monetary loss is determined by the weight of the checked baggage. So if you packed your rock collection in your suitcase, you’re in luck. If your suitcase was filled with paper money, which doesn’t weigh a lot, you’re not so lucky. Buy insurance or carry your precious items in your carry-on bag.

Similar rules apply to flights within the United States. These restrictions are referred to as tariffs and the details and the limitations are set forth on your ticket. Because these rules are designed to cover all passengers, they will restrict your rights to the terms and conditions set forth on your ticket. Make sure you keep a copy of your ticket so you know how to properly file a claim.

You may never have taken the time to read your airline ticket, but if you’re transporting something incredibly valuable in checked luggage, you really should. After all, if you don’t declare the items and pay the insurance, how are you going to prove you even had them with you?

Here’s a true story: A plaintiff was flying overseas to attend a family wedding. She claimed that she had packed her jewelry in a carry-on bag to take with her on the plane. When she got to the plane toward the end of the boarding time, all of the overhead racks were full. The airline required her to check her baggage at the gate for storage in cargo.

When she arrived at her destination, the jewelry was gone. The airline denied any liability, because she couldn’t prove she had the jewelry with her. She never declared the contents. Another snag was in determining where the jewelry disappeared — in the United States or in another country. The moral of the story is always keep small valuables with you, arrive at the gate early, and buy insurance.