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Delta Air Lines Hit with Negligence Lawsuit After Dumping Toxic Jet Fuel on High School Students

–Lawsuit alleges incident was avoidable but pilot broke protocol by failing to notify air traffic control–

LOS ANGELES (February 11, 2020) – Los Angeles-based trial firms McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP and Redefine Law Firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of three minor students attending Pioneer High School who were exposed to fuel dumped from Delta Air Lines, Inc. (Delta) Flight 89 on January 14, 2020. According to the lawsuit against Delta, shortly after takeoff an in-flight situation necessitated the aircraft to return to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), but after informing air traffic control that there was no need to dump any fuel, the aircraft released thousands of pounds of jet fuel as it flew over the school and surrounding areas. The lawsuit alleges that had the pilot notified air traffic control of needing to dump fuel, Flight 89 would’ve been directed to a location and altitude from which fuel could’ve been released without endangering the population.

“Delta and its flight crew for Flight 89 had a duty to notify air traffic control of any need or intent to dump jet fuel during a flight, and were aware of or should have been aware that the aircraft was too low to safely dump fuel,” said Matthew McNicholas Partner at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP. “This incident brings into question whether this negligence extends into Delta’s policies and protocols.”

The lawsuit alleges the following:

  • On January 14, 2020, a Boeing 777-200 flown by Delta as Flight 89 took off from LAX bound for Shanghai, China. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot declared an in-flight situation that necessitated the aircraft return to LAX and fly over the heavily populated neighborhood that included Pioneer High School.
  • Flight 89 notified LAX air traffic control of the need for the aircraft to return to LAX, but did not inform personnel of any need to dump fuel prior to landing. In fact, the pilot specifically told air traffic control personnel that there was no need to dump any fuel.
  • As Flight 89 flew over the school at approximately 2,000 feet (and as students were out on the playground and other areas of the campus), the aircraft released what is believed to be thousands of pounds of toxic jet fuel.
  • Delta and its flight crew for Flight 89 were aware of or should’ve been aware that jet fuel is toxic and that contact is harmful and dangerous to humans.
  • Delta and its flight crew for Flight 89 were under a duty to adequately notify and communicate with air traffic control personnel of any need or intent to dump fuel so that the aircraft could be directed to a location and altitude from which fuel could’ve been released without endangering the population.
  • Flight 89’s decision to dump fuel was made with no notification to air traffic control, no regard for the health and welfare of the populated areas below the aircraft and no regard for the fact that the aircraft was only at approximately 2,000 feet, which is far too low to allow jet fuel to dissipate or evaporate before reaching humans at ground level.
  • Flight 89 made no effort to fly in an approved holding pattern to burn off fuel at a safe altitude or fly at a higher altitude before dumping fuel. This is believed to be in violation of Delta’s policy and procedure for the release of jet fuel in-flight, indicating that either the pilots were negligently trained and/or that the policies in question were negligently written and distributed. To the extent that Flight 89’s release of fuel on January 14, 2020 complied with Delta’s policy and procedure for the release of jet fuel in-flight, it is alleged that their policies are negligent, unsafe and improper.
  • Flight 89 exposed the students and others in the highly populated area to the toxic jet fuel, which penetrated their skin, mouths and noses, causing itching, illness, nausea, dizziness and emotional distress.



McNicholas & McNicholas, a Los Angeles-based plaintiff’s trial law firm, represents clients in the areas of catastrophic personal injury, employment law, class actions, sexual abuse and other consumer-oriented matters such as civil rights, aviation disasters and product liability. Founded by a family of attorneys spanning three generations, McNicholas & McNicholas has been trying cases to jury verdict on behalf of its clients for more than five decades.

McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP

10866 Wilshire Blvd.

Suite 1400

Los Angeles, CA 90024

Phone: 866-664-3055

Fax: 310-475-7871


Redefine Law Firm, LLC is a Los Angeles-based plaintiff trial law firm representing clients in personal injury, employment, class action and business matters.

Redefine Law Firm, LLC

4311 Wilshire Blvd.

Suite 205

Los Angeles, CA 90010

Phone: 310-571-5297