Original Article: In-flight Medical Emergencies
Issue Date: May 1, 2021
See additional reader comments at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2021/0501/p547.html
To the Editor: We commend Drs. Hu and Smith for their article. The authors note that the Aviation Medical Assistance Act of 1998 protects the Good Samaritan health care professional because there has not been a court case for in-flight medical emergency care. We agree that litigation against physicians who provide in-flight medical emergency care is rare,1 but physicians should not underestimate the potential for lawsuits. The Aviation Medical Assistance Act does not prevent a passenger or family member from initiating a lawsuit for their in-flight medical emergency care; subsequently, for the Aviation Medical Assistance Act's indemnity, physicians must demonstrate that they provided the standard of medical care. In one lawsuit for an in-flight medical emergency that the court dismissed, the physician acknowledged the personal financial losses, time to review documents, deposition session, and most of all, the significant stress related to the litigation.2
Airline companies in the United States are ambivalent about providing legal assistance for an in-flight medical emergency, and a physician's malpractice policy may not provide support for a legal defense.3,4 Good Samaritan status could also be jeopardized if the physician accepts any compensation from the airline, including nonmonetary gifts such as mileage points, seat upgrades, and travel vouchers.5
There is a moral obligation to treat an ill passenger during a commercial air flight; however, physicians should be aware of the extent and limitation of the indemnity provided by the Aviation Medical Assistance Act, airlines, and malpractice policies.
Editor's Note: This letter was sent to the authors of “In-flight Medical Emergencies,” who declined to reply.