Every time you fly, if you check your bags, you have to trust someone else to take care of and deliver your possessions. I always get more than just a little anxious at the thought of handing over clothes and the like, because a lot can go wrong. Things can be damaged, your bag can get lost, you miss a connection and the bag goes one way while you’re stuck somewhere else. The possibilities are all but endless. As much as I dread the thought of losing my things, in the end, they are just things. In the grand scheme of traveling, having your bag lost or misplaced isn’t the end of the world.
But what if, instead of your suitcase filled to the brim with possessions, an airline lost your dog? This is what happened to one recent traveler. Frank Romano boarded a Delta flight from California to Florida after handing over his pit bull, Ty, to travel in a kennel. Before the flight left, though, Frank was told that Ty had chewed his way out of the kennel and was lost. Delta claims to be doing all things possible to find Ty and the airline has offered Frank a $200 credit for future travel.
No, that is not a typographical error. A dog is missing and Delta has offered only $200 in consolation. How can this be? Is Delta liable for the loss of the dog? If so, for how much? These are all the questions that flooded my head as I read about Frank and Ty.
If you’re just as curious, here are a few answers:
- Yes, airlines are liable for lost or damaged baggage, which includes a dog. Airlines limit their liability and must meet a minimum that is set by the federal government. Currently, the minimum dollar amount airlines can establish to compensate for lost, delayed and damaged baggage on domestic flights is $3,400.
- A quick check of Delta’s policy on baggage liability reveals that the airline has gone with the minimum.
- Passengers may declare a higher value for their baggage, making an airline liable for more than the minimum, but said passenger must do so before the flight and must pay a fee.
- A passenger can challenge the liability limit. In general, though, as long as the passenger had notice of the limit and an opportunity to declare a higher value for that baggage, the limit will hold up in court.
As far as I can tell, Frank did not declare a higher value, so it looks like any liability for his missing dog would be capped at $3,400. And case law has tended to stand by an airline’s minimum liability. For example, in 1983, Thomas Deiro shipped nine racing greyhounds by air from Portland to Boston. During a layover in Dallas, the airline left the dogs in their cages in 97° heat. Seven of the dogs died, and two were injured. Deiro sued American Airlines for $900,000, but the court only awarded him $750, which was the liability limit at the time.
The court reasoned that as an experienced traveler, Deiro should have declared a higher value for his dogs. In its decision, the court stated, “We find it difficult to imagine how any passenger with Deiro’s experience, planning to check a quarter of a million dollars worth of baggage, could have had more opportunity or incentive to familiarize himself with the baggage liability provisions.”
In sum, airlines have a long and protected history in limiting their liability. Nevertheless, here’s hoping that Ty and Frank are reunited soon.
You can hear more of my thoughts on this topic on the Legal Lis podcast: foxrad.io/1xhHHJd