Worthingtons Solicitors

Strict liability for many in-flight accidents

For most of us, the festive season is well and truly over and it’s back to work with a bump. It is hardly surprising that many of us will be booking flights to sunny destinations to beat the January blues.

Sadly and irrespective of the purpose of your flight, in-flight accidents can unfortunately occur.

Did you know that in many cases, the airline will be strictly liable, which means that if you can prove you have been injured on a flight, by an ‘unexpected’ or ‘unusual event’ or happening that is external to the passenger, the airline will be liable. This does not apply to injuries caused as a result of the passenger’s physical reaction to flying e.g. Deep Vein Thrombosis or hearing loss.

Common in-flight injuries include trips and slips, injuries caused by falling luggage from overheard lockers, trolley accidents or unexpected turbulence, burns/scalding injuries from hot drinks or suffering illnesses after being exposed to a food allergen or even food poisoning. This could further extend to injuries caused during take offs and landings, or when boarding and disembarking the aircraft.

Most Airlines operate internationally, so who should you look to for compensation?  

1. International Flights – A world-wide system of standards and rules for air travel operators, and in particular, rules regarding the liability for the death or injury of passengers.

The ‘Montreal Convention’ (“the convention”) is the key piece of legislation governing the liability of airlines and to date 122 countries have signed up, including all members of the European Union, the USA, China and Japan.

Claiming under the convention is relatively straightforward, and under the Convention, an action for damages against the airline can be brought in:

  • The country where the airline is domiciled
  • The airlines principal place of business
  • The country where the contract was made and the airline has a place of business
  • The Country where the passenger has their permanent place of residence and the airline operates passenger carriage services in that country. This being the case, actions can be readily brought in Northern Ireland.

2. Domestic Flights – For any flights between EU member states, or even if the flight is domestic within that EU member state, the airline is subject to Regulations 889/2002 and 2027/97 which in effect makes the airline subject to the provisions of the Montreal Convention as above.

For any flights within non-EU countries, it may not be as simple. While some may adopt the above approach and incorporate the provisions of the Montreal Convention, there may be countries where the domestic law of that country differs and a detailed understanding of the domestic law of that country would need to be carefully considered.  

Under the Montreal Convention an action against an airline must be brought within two years, however this may vary if the matter is not covered by the Convention and instead may depend on the jurisdiction in which the case is brought.

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