Is there a doctor on the plane (3) : LUSENET : Lessig's Contracts : One Thread

On a transatlantic flight, an airline asks passengers whether there is a "doctor onboard." Reluctantly, a doctor announces that she is a doctor. She proceeds to save the life of an unconscious patient.

Assume the doctor asks the airline for her fees. The airline refuses, saying "If a doctor is in a shopping mall and he helps somebody who has collapsed, does he send the bill to the mall?"

Is that a persuasive distinction?

-- Anonymous, October 05, 1998


No, this is not a persuasive distinction. A shopping mall is a public place, available for shopping, with which a shopper has a very limited relationship. A passenger has a more involved relationship with the airline, as they have bought a ticket and literally put their life in the hands of the airline. An airline does not have an obligation to do something very expensive like hire doctors to fly on all their planes, but I think they do appear to have an obligation to do whatever is reasonably within their power to aid their passengers, including compensating doctors who aid their passengers.

Source of this obligation? I think something like: the passenger has a contract with the airline to arrive safely at the destination, and the airline will do everything reasonable to achieve this goal.

-- Anonymous, October 07, 1998

I must repectfully disgree. I believe that despite the obvious substantive differences between the two situations, from a legal standpoint the airline has a pretty good point. True, the airline has an obligation to carry passengers safely to their destinations. Similarly, the mall has an obligation to make certain of the safety of its shoppers. But both of these obligations extend only to things that are preventable. The mall is responsible to the extent that they could have prevented the collapse (i.e. if a light fixture fell near the man, scaring him and causing him to collapse then they are responsible), just as the airline is only responsible to the extent that the conditions of the flight caused the man's injuries. There is no implied contract stating that the plane or the mall guarantee the safety of patrons upon their leaving the respective premises. That would go too far in placing the burden on the plane/mall. The test should approximate something to the effect that "If the man was not on the plane/ in the mall at the time of the collapse, is it likely that the collapse WOULD have occurred anyway."

-- Anonymous, October 12, 1998

To follow up, the difference I see derives from the availability of alternative sources of help. A mall is a "normal" place, where public emergency medical services are available and can help the person. An airplane is not such a place - the passenger can only turn to the airline or their fellow passengers for help. In this sense, it is strongly in the airline's interests to encourage their passengers to help each other.

-- Anonymous, October 13, 1998

response to is there a doctor on the plane (3)

I agree with that distinction, but it seems that it is only relevant if the lack of alternative medical help makes the airline somehow liable for the lack of medical alternatives. I think you already said that we do not require airlines to have a doctor on board for each flight. In that case, does this distinction matter as much? If we allow people to freely contract themselves into situations where they will be isolated from medical help, can we hold then turn around and hold the airline, instead of the passenger, liable for this?


-- Anonymous, October 20, 1998

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