Let’s say someone drops a bag on your head as they pull their luggage out of an overhead compartment on a jetliner. Or you get thrown around like a ragdoll in the lavatory as the jetliner experiences some unanticipated turbulence.
If you are on an international flight plan, there may be a silver lining. It’s called the Montreal Convention.
The Convention, successor to the highly out dated Warsaw Convention, allows passengers who have suffered everything from an inconvenience to an injury, or even death, to receive fair and just compensation for their suffering.
“Unfortunately, many passengers are unaware of the Montreal Convention,” said aviation law expert Michael Slack of Slack & Davis, L.L.P., in Austin, Texas. “They endure the pain and suffering that come after the incident, and then, depending on the circumstances, may think they have little or no recourse.”
Ladd Sanger, also of Slack & Davis, has represented many individuals in international airline accident cases. He has spent extensive time studying the Montreal Convention and is one of few air crash litigation attorneys in the country who is familiar with its intricate provisions.
According to Sanger, the following are just a few scenarios where an injured passenger could receive compensation under the Montreal Convention: turbulence, meal service (contaminants in food such as glass, needles), malfunctioning seats, lost luggage, death or injury due to a crash and damaged belongings.
Sanger explained to the Digital Journal some of the basic provisions of the Montreal Convention.
He said that it works under a two tier liability system that references monetary compensation in terms of special drawing rights (SDRs), a national reserve asset that can be exchanged for usable currency worldwide.
The first tier states that the carrier is liable for up to 100,000 SDRs (roughly $152,000) of damages unless they can prove negligence by the passenger. The second tier states the injured passenger (or their heir) can receive full compensation for damages past 100,000 SDRs unless, again, the carrier can prove they were not negligent or that the accident stemmed from an unaffiliated third party such as another passenger.
The Montreal Convention also protects lost or damaged luggage or belongings up to 1,000 SDRs (roughly $1,500).
Another important aspect of the Convention, Sanger noted, was the “international” component of the passenger’s itinerary. If any part of the flight plan includes a stop, transfer or layover outside of the initial country, the Montreal Convention still applies, even if the accident occurred during a domestic flight part of the international itinerary.
Lastly, the final provision of the Convention, which was added after its enactment, allows passengers to make claims and engage in litigation in their home country, regardless of where the accident occurred. This was to make matters more convenient so passengers could return home and still fight their case.
There are restrictions of each provision, and as Sanger said himself, one could go on for hours explaining and interpreting the great details and slight limitations of the Convention.
A few things are very clear, however: the Montreal Convention was created to provide victims with compensation after an airline tragedy occurred that they could not control.
Secondly, according to Sanger, not enough people are aware of the Convention or that they have any sort of legal recourse at all in a situation like this.
Finally, it is without doubt that with increased awareness of the Convention will come more and more injured passengers seeking what is lawfully theirs, as well as an increase in the practice of international law.
If you would like to know more about the Montreal Convention, check out Ladd Sanger’s article: Litigating Accidents and Injuries Under the Montreal Convention.