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Three families in San Francisco recently filed a very unusual injury lawsuit against Boeing and Asiana Airlines. The suit, concerning the recent crash of Flight 214 at SFO International Airport, claims that passengers in the coach cabin suffered more severe injuries than their wealthier brethren in business class due differences in seatbelts.

USA Today wrote an article about the lawsuit, apparently the first of its kind, at least in relation to the Asiana crash. The lawsuits, which were filed last week at a federal court in San Francisco, note how differences in seatbelt configuration led to substantially more severe injuries among passengers in coach as opposed to passengers in business class.

The suit noted that passengers located towards the rear of the plane are only given lap restraints to protect them in the event of a crash. Passengers at the front of the airplane in business class receive three-point seatbelts, much like the ones standard in automobiles. Though it may not seem like much, this added shoulder restraint can prove very beneficial. The lawsuit notes that the shoulder restraint prevented business class passengers from suffering many of the serious head injuries and whiplash problems that were seen among coach passengers.

The suit also blames Boeing for building a defective aircraft and Asiana Airlines for failing to train its pilots sufficiently. However, the thrust of the suit is the harm caused by the differences in seatbelts. Efforts to add three-point seatbelts to airplanes have been floated in the past and each time the industry has lobbied hard to stop them. The industry claims that adding such shoulder restraints to coach seats would require a costly reconfiguration of their aircraft that would lead to costlier and more uncomfortable travel for everyone.

Safety advocates dispute the idea that adding a shoulder restraint would be difficult or expensive. Instead, many say the airlines are against the idea because the additional bulk of a three-point safety belt might prevent them from cramming ever-larger numbers of seats onto their already overfull planes.

Experts say the novelty of the recent lawsuit will likely spark some copycatting by other injured plaintiffs who are still preparing to file suit against the airline and the airplane manufacturer. If the tactic works and plaintiffs succeed in receiving compensation for their injuries, expect many others to follow suit.  


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