Passenger Ordered To Pay $475 After Reclining Seat Without Telling Person Behind Them First

A passenger on a train in China reclined their seat without telling the person behind them they were going to do so. The seat reclined into the passenger’s laptop, damaging the screen. That passenger sued – and won $475.

According to the Xiangyin County People’s Court, Liu neglected his obligation to inform Wang that he planned to recline his seat, despite a sign compelling all travelers to “please notify the passengers in the rear row when adjusting your seat angle.”

…Wang demanded Liu pay him 4,788 yuan to compensate for repair costs, taxis to the repair shop, and disruption to his journey. This week, the Xiangyin County People’s Court ordered Liu to pay Wang 3,341 yuan, or about $475.

The plaintiff didn’t get full reimbursement because, according to the court, they were 30% to blame for failing to be “sufficiently ‘alert’ to the potential consequences of any adjustment to the seat in front of him.”

This is actually not all that uncommon, for instance here’s a cracked screen from a reclining seat in Delta Air Lines economy:

@Delta small note for the suggestion box, maybe have a little warning sign or someway to prevent my laptop from being destroyed when the person in front of me reclines their seat. pic.twitter.com/QHmphXiDhH

— Pat Cassidy ( • )( • ) (@HardFactorPat) February 26, 2020

If your airline seat reclines (cough, Spirit’s are “pre-reclined”), the reclining choice belongs to the person given the mechanism to do so. I think you shouldn’t recline unless it serves an actual purpose. But with thinner seats in coach, there’s less padding and it can be important to change the angle of your body and to change your weight distribution during the flight.

I was once in coach flying Cleveland – Los Angeles. I paid a young child, with mother’s consent, $5 not to recline her seat. I got four hours of work on my laptop as a result, a great investment of $5. In that case the initial allocation of property rights belonged to the child and we found a Coasian bargain.

I can open my laptop without too much difficulty in Southwest Airlines coach, the extra inch or two of seat pitch matters. But if you’re in coach and it’s a tight fit, it’s your responsibility to be aware of the risks. Situational awareness includes the angle of recline of the seat in front of you.

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