Accidents on Aeroplanes and How to Claim Compensation

08 February 2017

Your bags are packed and you're getting the holiday jitters. It's time to enjoy the sunshine or skiing that you've been looking forward to for months. Nothing can spoil it for you.

However, there are daunting statistics that thousands of passengers are injured each year from accidents on aircrafts. People may think they are not entitled to compensation for these injuries as they are up in the air, but in many cases they can be compensated.

Types of Accidents on Aircraft

Common accidents on aeroplanes which result in injury claims:

  • Aircraft crashes
  • Burns caused from hot drink spillages due to careless staff
  • Defective seats causing back injuries
  • Being hit by a food cart
  • Food poisoning from airline meals
  • Injuries caused from rough landings
  • Luggage falling from overhead lockers
  • Slips and trips on an aircraft or loading bridge.

To make a personal injury claim you must show an accident has occurred.

For most people it is obvious when an accident has occurred, however, what is the position when someone is made deaf by the cabin pressurisation? The Court considered this in the leading case of Air France v Saks in which it stated that an 'an accident could not occur as a result of the normal and expected operation of the flight'.

An interesting situation is when an injury occurs as a result of turbulence. With current technology it is often possible to foresee poor weather that causes turbulence. However, if the pilot and crew failed to warn passengers about turbulence and did not instruct passengers to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts then the Courts may consider an accident has occurred.

Injured in an Accident Getting On/Off a Plane?

The law covers you if you are on the plane and whilst embarking and disembarking. For the law to protect you, you must be doing something you have to in order to board the plane. Therefore, if you are injured in an accident when going through security or climbing the stairs to board your plane, the law still protects you.

The Montreal Convention

If you are injured whilst flying overseas, on route to your dream holiday, honeymoon or even on a business trip then the Montreal Convention safeguards you. It favours the passengers of the aeroplane and imposes a strict liability on the carrier, so long as you can show that an accident has occurred. Therefore, you do not need to worry about proving that negligence occurred on the aircraft, as the accident itself will be sufficient.

Time Limits to Claim

Usually in Personal Injury cases there is a limitation period of three years to issue proceedings from the date of the injury, or knowledge of the injury. However, an injury sustained whilst in the air only has a two year window for claims to be issued, this is from the date of landing at your final destination. Therefore for a return journey, the clock would not start until you had arrived home from your holiday.

How Much Can I Claim?

Under the terms of the Montreal Convention the carrier's liability is unlimited, unless the carrier is able to show one of two things:

  1. The accident occurred solely due to the negligence, wrongful act or omission of a third party,
  2. The accident was not due to the negligence, wrongful act or omission of the carrier, its servants or agents.

If the carrier is able to prove one of the above, on the balance of probabilities, then their liability is capped at 100,000 Special Drawing Rights, a currency defined by the International Monetary Fund. This equates to approximately £80,500 as of the 7 November 2016. This is in order to safeguard the carriers to some extent, counterbalancing the strict liability they are under.

Who is to Blame?

As discussed above, accidents that occur on an aircraft are often either due to negligence of the crew, pilot, or due to defects in the aircraft. But what if the cause of an injury is another passenger? In an Australian case, Bassos v Etihad, a claimant alleged that he had to contort his body for five hours, as he was seated next to an obese passenger who was taking up more than his allocated seat.

The claimant requested to be moved but was only allowed to do so for an hour. It was alleged that the airline was negligent in not aiding the passenger or safeguarding him from the resulting back injury. Brisbane District Court Judge Fleur Kingham refused to strike out the claim, stating that there was a potential prospect of success.

As demonstrated the Courts will find that even if the accident occurs as a result of another's actions or omissions, the carrier may still be found responsible. However, in this situation the carrier will only have to pay up to £80,500 (100,000 Special Drawing Rights).

Do UK Courts Deal with International Aircraft Claims?

If you are injured in an accident on an aircraft in flight over another country or international waters, and you want to claim compensation, which country's legal system will deal with your claim?

Article 33 of the Montreal Convention states that you have the option. It allows for a claim to be brought by injured passengers in the Courts of 1) the domicile (home country) of the carrier; 2) the carrier's (principal or otherwise) place of business; or 3) the passenger's principal or permanent place of residence if a destination in travel.

For example; whilst on his way from Australia to London Gatwick Mr Jones was injured when a stewardess pushed a food cart into his right shoulder, causing significant injury. Mr Jones should be informed reassured that as England is his permanent residence and that as the airline conducts business in England, he would be entitled to bring his claim in the Courts of England and Wales.

So to sum it up, you may be entitled to claim compensation, regardless of whether your plane is taxiing at an airport in the UK or is half way across the Atlantic!

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