We have received reports that Air New Zealand flight NZ90 from Tokyo to Auckland encountered severe turbulence approximately one hour after its departure on Saturday 16th January. Dinner was being served when the aircraft suddenly dropped and shook due to unexpected severe turbulence, causing dinner trays, food and drink to be thrown around the cabin. No injuries have been reported to date other than a flight attendant sustaining a badly cut finger from broken glass.
The reports from New Zealand come as a reminder of Qantas Flight QF32 which was struck by turbulence on a flight from Singapore to Sydney in January 2012, injuring seven people. In the case of QF32, although the seat belt sign had been put on in advance of hitting bad weather, the turbulence hit whilst some passengers were making their way back to their seats. It is suggested that no passengers were injured on recent flight NZ90 because they were sitting down with their seat belts on eating dinner when the flight encountered bad weather.
Injuries suffered by passengers during international air travel are covered by international conventions, most commonly the Montreal Convention 1999. Under this Convention, passengers who sustain bodily injury from an accident occurring on board an aircraft are entitled to compensation of up to 113,000 Special Drawing Rights (approximately $200,000 AUD) without having to prove negligence by the air carrier. Compensation for physical injury caused by severe turbulence is an example of passengers’ rights covered by the Montreal Convention. In such a situation, passengers would be entitled to compensation of up to $200,000 AUD from the air carrier on a strict liability basis regardless of whether the airline was negligent for flying through the extreme weather.
Claims for psychological injuries caused by the terror of being on a flight hit by severe turbulence are more complex, as the wording of the Montreal Convention refers to ‘bodily’ injury. Whether the scope of this term stretches to psychological injury has been the subject of numerous court decisions across the world, including the NSW Supreme Court decision of Casey v Pel Air  NSWSC 566.
The laws relating to injuries sustained during air travel are complex. If you have been injured on an aircraft, it is important to seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible. For an obligation free initial consultation, contact our travel law specialist Victoria Roy (nee Gallanders) on 1800 25 1800 or make an online enquiry.