Shipping Dogs by Air: Airline Liability Limits

Air carriers limit their liability for injuries to dogs they ship.

Whenever you ship a dog by air, you run the risk that the dog will be injured. What you may not realize is that unless you buy extra liability coverage for a dog, and something does happen to the dog, you may get stuck with the airline's decision about how much it will pay for your loss—no matter how much you lose.

How Liability Limits Work

Airlines limit their liability for loss, delay, or damage to baggage to the minimum required by the federal government, which is currently $3,300. The only way around this limit is to declare (before the flight) a higher value for your baggage and pay an additional fee. Remember, your dog is classified as baggage (carry-on or excess) unless you ship it air cargo. Similar liability limits also apply to air cargo.

If you suffer a loss of more than $3,300, and the airline refuses to make it good, you can challenge the liability limit in court (including small claims court, if the amount you're asking for is within your state's small claims court limit). In general, for a liability limit written in fine print to hold up in court, the passenger must have had:

  • notice of the limit, and
  • an opportunity to declare a higher value for the baggage.

Notice of the limit.  If, as a passenger, you honestly have no reason to know about a liability limit, it isn't reasonable to bind you to its terms. If the liability provision is buried in the fine print on the back of a ticket (or available only in an obscure place on the airline’s website), a court might rule that you weren't given adequate notice.

But if you're familiar with flying and with baggage liability limits, and you had your ticket days or weeks in advance, you will probably be held responsible for knowing the limit. The same is true if you were notified in some other way—by a conspicuous sign on the ticket counter, for example, or by an airline employee.

A chance to declare a higher value for the baggage.  The airline must also give you a fair opportunity to declare a higher value for your dog, and pay a correspondingly higher shipping fee. If it didn't, you won't be held to the liability limit.

Most airlines do allow passengers to declare a higher value for baggage. To find out how much the added liability coverage will cost, ask the airline. (See "Getting Extra Coverage," below.)

EXAMPLE:  In 1983, Thomas Deiro shipped nine racing greyhounds by air from Portland to Boston. The airline left the dogs in their cages on a baggage cart in the sun, in 97

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