Passenger negligence in aircraft accidents
On 3 August 2016 Emirates flight EK521 crash-landed at Dubai airport. All 300 passengers and crew safely evacuated the aircraft just two minutes before it exploded and was engulfed in flames. However mobile phone footage has emerged of passengers opening overhead lockers and reaching for their carry on luggage amidst the chaos of the smoke filled cabin and dangling oxygen masks. If this passenger behaviour had delayed the evacuation, would it affect their rights to compensation? The answer to this question lies in the wording of international air carriage conventions.
Fortunately in the case of flight EK521, the passengers escaped the aircraft relatively unscathed. It is reported that only 13 of the 282 passengers were hospitalised, mostly for minor injuries. Tributes have been made to a local firefighter who died battling the blaze, who along with the Emirates crew undoubtedly assisted in keeping passenger injuries to a minimum.
In circumstances where airline passengers are injured in aircraft crashes or accidents during international air travel, they have rights to claim personal injury compensation from the airline. These rights are governed by international conventions, most commonly the Montreal Convention 1999. Under Articles 17 and 21 of the Montreal Convention, passengers are entitled to compensation for bodily injury up to a certain monetary threshold without having to prove negligence by the airline. This means that passengers who suffered bodily injury in the EK521 crash would have a right to claim compensation against Emirates, regardless of the cause of the crash and more importantly regardless of whether Emirates were at fault.
However, under Article 20 of the Montreal Convention, if an airline proves that the passenger’s injuries were caused or contributed to by the negligence or wrongful act or omission of the passenger, the airline will be wholly or partly exonerated from its obligation to pay personal injury compensation. This means that if a passenger contributes to their injury, their compensation will be reduced in line with their level of contributory negligence which can be up to one hundred percent.
Air passengers are told without fail at the beginning of every flight that in the event of an emergency evacuation, carry on baggage should be left behind. Therefore if a passenger delays their evacuation by searching for their passport and suffers burns or smoke inhalation, or breaks a bone by landing heavily on their carry on bag at the bottom of an emergency slide, it would be hard for them to deny that what they were doing was wrong. If the airline was able to prove that such passenger behaviour caused or contributed to their injury, the passenger’s damages would be reduced accordingly.
In the case of EK521, there was only two minutes between the end of the evacuation and the explosion of the aircraft. The airline crew must be praised for their supervision of the evacuation and their clear instructions to passengers to leave baggage behind. However with so little time to spare between evacuation and tragedy, perhaps it is time for airlines to rethink how to convey those important pre-flight safety announcements.
The laws relating to aircraft accidents are complex and there are short deadlines to make a claim. If you or a family member have been injured on an aircraft, you should seek legal advice from an expert in this area of law. Contact our travel law department on 1800 25 1800 for a no obligation discussion about your circumstances, or make an online enquiry.
Written by Victoria Roy.
Victoria Roy is Practice Group Leader of Stacks Goudkamp’s Travel Law Department. Victoria specialises in bringing compensation claims for people who have been injured on aircraft, cruise ships and overseas.