Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Legally Speaking – with Bob Mionske: Baggage handlers from Hell

Dear Bob,I flew from N.Y. to L.A. with my bike in a cardboard box. I paid around $100 dollars for the bike and signed some paperwork. When the bike arrived the top tube was bent and it was clear the box was badly treated along the way. I called the airline and they said I signed a release and that either way I must have packed the bike improperly. What can I do?Diane ShelbyDana Point, CA Dear Diane, That fact that the airline said that you must have packed the bike improperly seems quite presumptuous. Although airlines may compensate up to $2500 per passenger for loss, damaged or delayed

Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.

By Bob Mionske

Dear Bob,I flew from N.Y. to L.A. with my bike in a cardboard box. I paid around $100 dollars for the bike and signed some paperwork. When the bike arrived the top tube was bent and it was clear the box was badly treated along the way. I called the airline and they said I signed a release and that either way I must have packed the bike improperly. What can I do?
Diane Shelby
Dana Point, CA Dear Diane,
That fact that the airline said that you must have packed the bike improperly seems quite presumptuous.

Although airlines may compensate up to $2500 per passenger for loss, damaged or delayed luggage, they generally assume no liability when a release has been signed. Virtually all airlines require passengers to sign release forms in order to check fragile items. Fragile items include bicycles (and other items such as musical instruments, perishable items, photograph equipment, etc). The standard airline release form says that execution of a release form relieves the airline of liability for damage to fragile items where the damage results solely from the:

unsuitability of the item and/or the inadequacy of the packaging, and not from the airline’s failure to exercise the ordinary standard of care.

So basically, when you signed the release form it exempted the airline from any liability on your bicycle if the airline acted with ordinary care.

What is adequate packaging? In order to accept bicycles, airlines require them to be non-motorized, with handlebars turned sideways, pedals removed or wrapped with protective packing material, sharp protrusions padded, and boxed (or in a container). Even though it was presumptuous of the airline to claim that you must have packed the bike improperly, packing your bike in a cardboard box without anything more may not be enough to meet most airlines’ packaging standards.

However, you may have an argument that the airline failed to exercise ordinary care when handling the bicycle because it was clear that the box was treated badly. In order to prove this, it is important that you retain all damaged property, including the cardboard box, until it can be inspected by an airline representative or even to be used later as evidence in a suit for damages.

In addition to the release document, most airlines have a basic provision which says that damaged bags should be reported to the airline within 24 hours of arrival for domestic flights (and within 7 days for international flights). By failing to report baggage mishandling of any type, you may risk total denial of compensation.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like you have much recourse because the laws of California really seem to favor businesses. Although Cal. Civ. Code § 1668 prohibits contracts exempting a party from liability for his own fraud, willful injury or any violations of law, it does not, per se, prohibit a contractual release of future liability for ordinary negligence. But more specifically, under Cal. Civ. Code § 2174 obligations of a carrier such as an airline can only be altered by agreement. Therefore general obligations for airlines to compensate up to $2500 for damaged baggage can be validly limited by special contracts such as a release.

Also, keep in mind these guidelines are only for domestic travel, international flights are governed by a completely separate set of laws called the Warsaw Convention. In my experience, fair compensation for bicycles damaged while under the control of the airlines is rare. Because there often no other way to travel to a particular destination, we are at the mercy of the airlines and their one sided release.
Good luck
Bob(Research and drafting assistance provided by Katherine Chung – law student – Willamette University School of law)


Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who representedthe U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the roadrace), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championshiproad race.After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached theSaturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to lawschool. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to mionskelaw@hotmail.comBob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He willalso select a few questions each week to answer in this column. Generalbicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.Important notice:
The information provided in the “Legally speaking”column is not legal advice. The information provided on this publicweb site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors tothis web site. The information contained in the column applies to generalprinciples of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legaldevelopments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and thereforeshould not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand thatreading the information contained in this column does not mean youhave established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske.Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained inthe web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.