Air carriers can be liable for psychological injuries caused by accidents

The Montreal Convention is a multilateral treaty for the unification of several rules for international air carriage to which 136 states and the European Union are parties. It is of major significance for the aviation sector and contains, inter alia, provisions on an air carrier´s liability in case of an international flight. Article 17 of the Montreal Convention stipulates that an air carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger caused by an accident that took place on board of an aircraft or while embarking or disembarking.

Since the term “bodily injury” is not defined in the Montreal Convention, questions were raised whether air carriers can also be held liable for psychological injuries caused by an accident.

In case C111/21, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) had to deal with such a case. The passenger in question embarked a flight operated by the former Austrian air carrier Laudamotion between London and Vienna. During take-off, the left engine of the aircraft exploded, causing an evacuation of the passengers. The passenger in question disembarked the aircraft via the emergency exit and was hurled several metres through the air by the jet blast from the right engine, which had not yet been shut down. As a consequence, the passenger suffered not only physical, but also psychological harm.

The Austrian courts (District Court Schwechat and upon an appeal the Regional Court Korneuburg) were of the opinion that psychological injuries do not fall within the meaning of “bodily injury” and are therefore not covered by Article 17 of the Montreal Convention. However, the passenger brought the case before the Austrian Supreme Court, which decided to refer this question to the CJEU.

The CJEU argued by taking into account the preparatory works which led to the Montreal Convention and its objectives that the situation of a passenger who has suffered a psychological injury as a result of an accident may be comparable to that of a passenger who has suffered bodily injury. Consequently, the CJEU stated that according to Article 17 of the Montreal Convention air carriers are liable for psychological injury, which is not linked to bodily injury. However, only if the passenger can demonstrate (by means in particular of a medical report and proof of medical treatment) the existence of an adverse effect on his psychological integrity of such gravity that it affects his general state of health and that it cannot be resolved without medical treatment.