A recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts has held that being bumped or pushed by a fellow passenger while disembarking does not constitute an “accident” under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention. Goodwin v. British Airways, No. 09-10463-MBB, 2011 WL 3475420 (D. Mass. Aug. 8, 2011). The decision involved a fall by plaintiff while disembarking from a British Airways flight in Paris. Plaintiff alleged that the airline was liable under the Montreal Convention for failing to take all necessary precautions to prevent a fellow passenger from bumping into her and causing her to fall during disembarkation.
Defendant airline filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that plaintiff’s fall did not constitute an “accident” under Article 17. The trial court found, consistent with prior decisions of district courts in the First Circuit,¹ that the Montreal Convention accident analysis requires consideration of a two prong test. In order to establish an “accident” under the Convention, the evidence must show that (1) an unusual or unexpected event that was external to the passenger occurred; and (2) the event was a malfunction or abnormality in the aircraft’s operation or control.
The court concluded that the alleged bump or push from a fellow passenger met the first prong of the test. The court reasoned that although some jostling on a flight may be expected, it is unusual and unexpected to experience a physical collision with a fellow passenger that is severe enough to cause a person to lose his or her balance and fall. However, the event did not meet the second prong of the test because it did not relate to the operation of the aircraft. The court found that the second prong is satisfied where there is direct flight crew involvement in the event or the event is within the airline’s purview or control. Plaintiff did not assert direct flight crew involvement and the action of the fellow passenger was not within the airline’s purview or control because, as the court noted, “a flight crew is in no better position to detect and avoid the dangers inherent in walking” than its passengers. The court also found that there was no evidence that the airline was obligated to intervene at any time during the deplaning process.
The two prong accident analysis followed by courts in the First Circuit is the minority view in the United States. Since the majority of courts do not follow this two prong analysis, the split in the law may eventually be an issue decided by the United States Supreme Court.
¹ Gotz v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 12 F. Supp. 2d 199 (D. Mass. 1998); Garcia Ramos v. Transmeridian Airlines, Inc., et al., 385 F. Supp. 2d 137 (D.P.R. 2005).