Can You Sue If You Find out Your Pilot Was Drunk?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on April 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This week a Jet Blue pilot was federally charged for violating airline safety regulations after random testing revealed high levels of alcohol in his blood following a flight from Florida to New York. The complaint against Dennis Murphy Jr. states that his co-pilot saw him drinking before the flight and the tests showed Murphy to be at nearly three times the legal limit for an airline pilot.

Murphy's case highlights what may be a relatively common habit of drinking and flying by pilots. Let's look at the data and whether there is anything you can do if you find a pilot on your flight was drunk or high.

Flying High, Literally

Every month between 2010 and 2015 an average of one US pilot violated the alcohol and drug regulations, and 38 tested positive for illegal drugs in 2015 alone, according to a Freedom of Information request obtained by Fox News. Does that mean you can sue if you were on a flight with a wasted pilot?

The bad news is no, not unless you have been injured by this negligence. Torts law requires a compensable injury. If you landed safely, never knowing of your pilot's intoxication or experiencing any damages as a result, you have no injury claim. But the good news is that you aren't actually injured!

A Federal Case

The reason that authorities make a federal case out of a drunken pilot is that they are responsible for a lot of people and the risk of injury is very high when flying. Jet Blue said it has a zero tolerance policy with respect to drugs and alcohol and that Murphy doesn't fly for the company anymore -- he was hired in January of last year. Murphy had claimed that his chewing gum is what led to a high reading during tests.

The accused was arraigned at a Brooklyn, New York federal courthouse today and faces 15 years in prison, according to ABC News. He posted a $50,000 bail bond after his arrest at home yesterday and had no comment for reporters.

Murphy really didn't want to talk about it. After a night in lock-up and the arraignment in court, he switched clothes with his father to try to avoid journalists, reports CBS News.


If you have been injured by the negligence of another, through a product or in an accident, talk to a lawyer about what claims may be available. Many personal injury attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.

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