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Accidents on an Aircraft: The Montreal Convention

Flying is one of the safest forms of transport but the fact remains that every year a large number of people are injured whilst on board an aircraft. This includes a staggering 10,000 injuries caused by luggage falling from overhead lockers with others injured by hot drinks being spilt, air turbulence, rolling food trolleys and passengers tripping over various hazards on board.

Accidents on aircraft are covered by the Montreal Convention. This applies to international carriage by air and allows passengers to claim compensation in the event of an injury [or death] which takes place either on board the aircraft, or while the passenger is in the process of boarding or disembarking the aircraft.  The Convention operates in favour of the aircraft passenger and imposes what is known as ‘strict liability’ on the air carrier.  This effectively means that as a claimant it is not always necessary to prove that someone was at fault; the fact that the accident happened is enough.  The accident must be unexpected and unusual and not be caused by a passengers physical reaction to flying like a deep vein thrombosis [DVT] or hearing loss due to normal pressure changes which are hazards of air travel but are not considered to be accidents by law.

All too often though passengers put themselves at risk, despite all the very clear safety advice they are given by the Cabin Crew, when many ignore the announcement after landing to take extra care when opening the overhead lockers as luggage may have shifted during landing.  Many passengers also ignore the request to remain in their seats until the aircraft has come to a complete stop and the seat-belt signs have been turned off.  By this time of course the reality is that many are already out of their seats and opening the overhead lockers to drag out their hand-luggage and duty free goods.  It is at this point that accidents from falling luggage are likely to occur and passengers that remained seated are often the ones that are injured.  Whilst the Montreal Convention allows injured passengers to claim in these circumstances should it really be the airline that pays the compensation?

Another frequent cause of injuries is where hot drinks are spilt onto a passenger, either by the cabin crew, by one passenger knocking into another or a cup simply turns over when the aircraft hits turbulence.  The airlines have a duty of care to their passengers and there is no argument that whilst many have very well trained cabin crew, and provide excellent medical care, what they can treat on board is inevitably going to be limited.  Therefore in order to make a claim under the Montreal Convention the incident must have been reported to a member of the cabin crew and medical attention must have been sought after you have disembarked even if the cabin crew administered first aid whilst you were on-board the aircraft.

Many of these incidents could be prevented if passengers heeded the safety advice of the cabin crew, took their time, and showed some consideration to others.  Following these simple steps will hopefully get everyone’s holiday off to a good start.

Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can offer advice to anyone who suffers a personal injury whilst on an aircraft.  Free and confidential legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit our website harrisfowler.co.uk

Harris Fowler is a trading name of Harris Fowler Limited and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority no. 558271.