Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is one of the crown jewels of Atlanta, and of the state of Georgia. It’s world famous as the busiest airport in existence, and treasured by the city as a cornerstone of the local economy.

It’s also been plagued by allegations of corruption and lackadaisical safety practices.

Travelers passing through Hartsfield-Jackson must navigate a minefield of hazardous and poorly maintained facilities, the product of decades of emphasis on expansion, appearances, and financial gain, at the expense of passenger safety.

Unfortunately, we at the Stoddard Firm can’t walk you through the airport premises themselves. However, if you’ve been injured while trying to make your way to your destination, we can help you navigate the legal process of holding Hartsfield-Jackson responsible, and get you the resources you need to put your life back in order.

The Path to and from Each Flight Is Fraught with Safety Hazards

Fear of airports is usually connected with fear of flight itself, but in reality, the time you spend in the air will be one of the safest parts of your journey — especially if the rest of that journey includes traversing the grounds of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The airport’s aging escalators are prone to snagging clothes and shoes, leading to serious injuries. In one two-month period, Hartsfield-Jackson’s escalators caused serious foot injuries to no fewer than three small children.

Management’s official response was to blame the children’s shoes. It wasn’t until five years later that upgrades to some of the escalators were finally announced — but only on one concourse, where there was concern about traffic congestion interfering with concession sales. That same year, two unchanged escalators caught fire elsewhere in the airport, and two firefighters were injured trying to bring the blaze under control.

Much like the escalators, the airport’s moving walkways can easily entrap body parts and articles of clothing. They’re also a common cause of slipping and tripping accidents, due to the disorientation that comes with stepping on and off of them while being rushed along by heavy crowds.

The “Plane Train” Shortcut Carries Dangers of Its Own

The quickest, most convenient way to catch your flight at Hartsfield-Jackson is often by taking the Plane Train. In fact, depending on the location of your gate, the only alternative to a Plane Train ride may be trekking for over a mile through crowded public walkways.

The Plane Train has always been dangerous because of how quickly it accelerates and decelerates (called “jerk”), but it has also been showing its age in recent years. Within a two month period in 2018, a metal plate broke off of one of its switches, allowing it to damage its own track, and on a different day, the plumes of smoke from its overheating brakes set off a fire alarm.

Many locals are so accustomed to the Plane Train’s halting and downright rickety movements that they’ve come to think of it as harmlessly quirky. First-time visitors to Atlanta, on the other hand, tend to be rightly alarmed by the train’s sudden accelerations and deceleration’s. When it jolts between moving at high speed and a full stop, there’s nothing passengers can do to protect themselves but cling on to the sparsely provided poles, the walls, each other, and whatever else they can grab in the standing-room-only interior.

Falls occur.  Older passengers and those with medical conditions that require moving carefully are at particular risk of serious injury such as broken bones and herniated discs, both during the Plane Train ride and during the rush to board before the automated doors close.

Hartsfield-Jackson’s Lack of Disaster Preparation Has Been Well Demonstrated

Perhaps the most dangerous journey the Plane Train has ever taken was on the day of the Hartsfield-Jackson power outage.

On December 17th, 2017, the airport’s underground power supply caught fire for unknown reasons, leading to an 11-hour blackout during the peak of the holiday travel season. Throughout the ordeal, passengers were trapped in various parts of the airport, including on the Plane Train, which was stopped in the same tunnel where the fire was burning out of control.

Thankfully, through sheer luck, no one was hurt, but the outage caused serious problems throughout the airport.

An Ongoing $6 Billion Upgrade May Do Little to Improve Safety

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is currently in the early stages of a massive modernization project that’s expected to take 20 years and $6 billion. That seems like an overdue but commendable step in addressing the airport’s unsafe conditions, until one looks over the itemized plan.

An on-site fire department is underway, which will hopefully allow for more efficient responses to the airport’s electrical malfunctions in the future, but it’s hard to know the extent of safety improvement that will actually result from the fire department’s presence. A representative for Hartsfield-Jackson promises that the concourse modernization part of the project will include escalator improvements and additional lighting for security and fall prevention — one can only hope this is true — but the remainder of the checklist focuses almost entirely on aesthetics and expanding capacity.

Even the plans for the Plane Train, which has run continuously without upgrades for over 30 years, are limited to extending its track and reducing its wait times.  There are no planned changes to its rate of acceleration or towards having more places to sit or hold onto as the Plane Train moves.

The Busiest Airport in the World Is Plagued with Allegations of Corruption

Hartsfield-Jackson’s “biggest in the world” reputation, along with the high-traffic realities of being the world’s busiest airport, make it one of the most important economic assets in the state. This, in turn, has made it the subject of bitter power struggles and frequent corruption allegations.

One of the most frequent unethical practices alleged to have occurred at Hartsfield-Jackson in recent years, is the awarding of big-ticket contracts to the friends and family of management and city officials, or to those who are offered the biggest bribes. By law, contractors for public works, including airports, must be selected according to fair, evenly enforced policies.

Based on these allegations at Hartsfield-Jackson, the airport came under state-level scrutiny in 2016. Atlanta’s mayor at the time, Kasim Reed, responded by trying to cover up the existence of the state investigation, while encouraging the Atlanta City Council to proceed with a vote on a new set of proposed contracts.

He then fired the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson, leading to a public falling out between the two of them, during which they both accused each other of criminal misconduct. The feud eventually ended with Reed secretly arranging for the city to pay the former general manager $147,000, and both of them declaring a truce.

Later, under Mayor Reed’s successor, Mayor Bottoms, Atlanta’s Chief Purchasing Officer served jail time for accepting bribes, including bribes allegedly from a construction company that had been awarded large amounts of work at Hartsfield-Jackson. That company’s owner was accused of attempting to intimidate the Chief Purchasing Officer into lying about the bribes, and he was himself indicted on 51 counts of bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, and witness tampering.

In early 2019, shortly after a passenger accidentally carried a gun through a security checkpoint without detection, the state went so far as to try to remove control of Hartsfield-Jackson from the city government, much to the outrage of Mayor Bottoms. The proposed bill ended up being rewritten to leave the airport under city jurisdiction, while establishing a state oversight committee.

A bidding process to reassign Hartsfield-Jackson’s concessions and retail contracts, long delayed by the ongoing corruption investigation, has now been scheduled for August of 2019. That doesn’t mean the allegations of criminal misconduct are over, however. In fact, right in the middle of preparations for the bidding, the Director of Concessions was fired after allegations of multiple acts of sexual harassment surfaced – including allegations of forcibly kissing female employees working under him.

A Corrupt and Mismanaged Airport Is Never a Safe Airport

Favoritism in awarding airport contracts is not only an abuse of power, a misappropriation of public funds, and discriminatory toward ethical contractors; it also opens the airport up to lower quality services at higher prices.

Ultimately, it’s the passengers who end up paying the price of airport management’s decisions. When improperly selected contractors are put in charge of projects affecting safety, sometimes that price takes the form of severe bodily injuries.

For example, in June of 2019, a woman passing through Hartsfield-Jackson says she discovered shards of glass in a drink she ordered from a vendor, and her doctor later confirmed that her subsequent stomach pains were the result of having ingested some of the glass. While this particular incident may not have been foreseeable for Hartsfield-Jackson, safety lapses tend to happen much more easily when contractors are chosen for the personal enrichment of management and elected officials, rather than for the quality they provide to those using the airport. The same danger applies to more obviously hazardous features — like escalators and elevators — that have been worked on by a chosen contractor.

In some cases, serious problems can occur from seemingly minor lapses in work ethic.  For example, the Hartsfield-Jackson airport serves has miles of walkways, and when janitorial staff fails to clean food and drinks from those walkways, passengers can get seriously injured in slip and fall / trip and fall accidents.  Even a small careless decision such as delaying the cleaning of a walkway can sometimes have serious consequences because when older airport patrons fall, they tend to break bones.

Even when the chosen contractors are competent, the use of the airport as a way of making income still poses a danger to travelers. In power decision-makers are highly motivated to maintain the airport’s high traffic and sought-after status among contractors, thereby maintaining their own opportunities to profit. To that end, appearances and capacity can become the priority, leaving safety by the wayside.

The Stoddard Firm Has Experience Representing Victims of Hartsfield-Jackson’s Premises Liability

Legitimate visitors to any property, public or private, have the right to a safe environment. Airports are no exception. When the management of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport puts profits ahead of passenger safety, it’s responsible for the resulting harm that comes to those passengers.

The economic power of Hartsfield-Jackson, and its integral role in Atlanta politics, can make it an intimidating foe for a wronged passenger, but with the help of expert legal counsel, you can get the compensation you deserve.

At The Stoddard Firm, we have extensive experience not only with premises liability and product claims, but we also have specific experience with Hartsfield-Jackson’s history of negligence. We’re intimately acquainted with its past legal proceedings and with previous injuries on the property, and we’ve filed numerous lawsuits against the owners and managers of Hartsfield-Jackson. We know that accidents at Hartsfield-Jackson should no longer come as a surprise to anyone, and we’re always proud to help reclaim some of an airport’s gains on behalf of its victims.

If you’ve been injured due to the unsafe conditions at Hartsfield-Jackson, reach out today at 678-RESULTS, or through our online chat function, for a free consultation. We’re ready and waiting to discuss your unique case and what we can do to help.

Attorney Matt Stoddard

Matt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]

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