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First aid as accident under the Montreal Convention

First aid as accident under the Montreal Convention

In its ruling C-510/21 on 6 July 2023, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that inadequate first aid on board an aircraft following an accident under the Montreal Convention must be regarded as forming part of that accident.

Facts of the case

The case, once again brought before the ECJ by an Austrian court (this time: the Austrian Supreme Court), involved Austrian Airlines.

On 18 December 2016, the claimant was travelling from Tel Aviv to Vienna on a flight operated by Austrian Airlines. During this flight, hot coffee was spilled on the claimant, resulting in injuries. Subsequently, first aid was administered to the claimant on board the aircraft.

In 2019, after the expiration of the time limit specified in Article 35 of the applicable Montreal Convention, the claimant filed a lawsuit against Austrian Airlines in Vienna. The claimant argued that the inadequate first aid should not be considered an accident under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, and therefore, his claims for damages should be governed solely by Austrian national law. Consequently, the three-year time limit stipulated by Austrian national law would apply, and his claims would not be time-barred.

Questions raised by the Austrian Supreme Court

(1) Is first aid which is administered on board an aircraft following an accident within the meaning of Article 17(1) of the [Montreal Convention] and which leads to further bodily injury to the passenger which can be distinguished from the actual consequences of the accident to be regarded, together with the triggering event, as a single accident?

(2) If Question 1 is answered in the negative: Does Article 29 of [the Montreal Convention] preclude a claim for compensation for damage caused by the administration of first aid where that claim is brought within the limitation period under national law but outside the period for bringing actions which is laid down in Article 35 of [that] convention?

Legal outcome

The ECJ determined that it is not always possible to attribute damage to an isolated event when that damage is the result of a series of interdependent events. Therefore, when intrinsically linked events occur successively, they should be considered as constituting a single accident under the Montreal Convention.

Based on this interpretation, the ECJ concluded that inadequate first aid provided on board an aircraft following an accident under the Montreal Convention must be considered as part of that accident.

Due to this interpretation, it was not necessary for the ECJ to answer the second question. We are still awaiting a ruling in which the ECJ provides a clear opinion on the scope of the Montreal Convention´s exclusivity principle.

Don´t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about passenger claims in Austria.

Air carrier liability for psychological injuries

Air carrier liability for psychological injuries

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 under the Montreal Convention.

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.

Don´t hesitate to contact our Aviation Team to learn more about the application of the Montreal Convention in Austria.