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Air Travel Accidents

Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 (as amended by Regulation (EC) No 889/2002) requires air carriers in the EU to give the following summary of a passenger’s rights on the air ticket.

Air carrier liability for passengers and their baggage

This information notice summarises the liability rules applied by Community air carriers as required by Community legislation and the Montreal Convention.

Compensation in the case of death or injury

There are no financial limits to the liability for passenger injury or death. For damages up to 100 000 SDRs (approximate amount in local currency [€88,098]) the air carrier cannot contest claims for compensation. Above that amount, the air carrier can defend itself against a claim by proving that it was not negligent or otherwise at fault.

Advance payments

If a passenger is killed or injured, the air carrier must make an advance payment, to cover immediate economic needs, within 15 days from the identification of the person entitled to compensation. In the event of death, this advance payment shall not be less than 16 000 SDRs (approximate amount in local currency [€14,095])

Passenger delays

In case of baggage delay, the air carrier is liable for damage unless it took all reasonable measures to avoid the damage or it was impossible to take such measures. The liability for baggage delay is limited to 1 000 SDRs (approximate amount in local currency [€880.98])

Destruction, loss or damage to baggage

The air carrier is liable for destruction, loss or damage to baggage up to 1 000 SDRs (approximate amount in local currency [€880.98]). In the case of checked baggage, it is liable even if not at fault, unless the baggage was defective. In the case of unchecked baggage, the carrier is liable only if at fault

Higher limits for baggage

A passenger can benefit from a higher liability limit by making a special declaration at the latest at check-in and by paying a supplementary fee.

Complaints on baggage

If the baggage is damaged, delayed, lost or destroyed, the passenger must write and complain to the air carrier as soon as possible. In the case of damage to checked baggage, the passenger must write and complain within seven days, and in the case of delay within 21 days, in both cases from the date on which the baggage was placed at the passenger’s disposal.

Liability of contracting and actual carriers

If the air carrier actually performing the flight is not the same as the contracting air carrier, the passenger has the right to address a complaint or to make a claim or damages against either. If the name or code of an air carrier is indicated on the ticket, that air carrier is the contracting air carrier.

Time limit for action

Any action in court to claim damages must be brought within two years from the date of arrival of the aircraft, or from the date on which the aircraft ought to have arrived

Basis for the information

The basis for the rules described above is the Montreal Convention of 28 May 1999, which is implemented in the Community by Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 (as amended by Regulation (EC) No 889/2002) and national legislation of the Member States.”

Essentially, the EU has subscribed to what is called the Montreal Convention. It is a great improvement on the original international instrument governing international air travel, the Warsaw Convention of 1929. The principal purpose of the Warsaw convention was to limit the airlines’ liability for loss, injury or death.

Because the Montreal Convention is international it has generated oddities. It is open to interpretation by national courts and several national courts have interpreted it, not least the US Supreme Court. The courts of other nations and lower courts have tended towards looking to the words of those interpretations at the expense of the words of the Convention.

For Member States of the EU it is important to note that the Convention is law in the EU pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 (as amended by Regulation (EC) No 889/2002). This, of course, includes Ireland. The Montreal Convention is law in Ireland also under the Air Navigation and Transport (International Conventions) Act 2004.

 Passengers and crew. The Convention applies only to passengers.

 Loss. According to interpretations of the Convention, it applies only to personal injury, death or loss to or of baggage. That’s it.

Exclusivity. According to interpretations of the Convention, it is the exclusive and only remedy for passengers for claims arising in connection with air travel.

Accidents. The Convention applies only to cases of accident. The Convention does not define “accident” so the national courts have done so. Not surprisingly, there is no fixed general meaning to “accident”. Notions of “unexpected”, “unintended” and “intended” have popped up in the discussion. It has been held to include a sexual assault on one passenger by another passenger and an attack by terrorists; food poisoning is an accident as is scalding by hot drink, but disgust at airline food is not an accident. Contracting pneumonia from the poor cabin air was an accident. Tripping on shoes or blanket bags on the floor have been held not to be accidents as those objects are said not to be unusual or unexpected.

 Compensation. There is no obligation on the passenger to prove negligence on the part of the airline, unless the passenger/plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of the SDR 100,000 limit.

Defamation. The Irish High Court has found that the Convention rights do not extend to claims for defamation and that, being exclusive, there is no right in a passenger to claim for defamation arising in connection with an international journey.