The recent judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 19 December 2019 in Case C-532/18 redefined the notion of “accident” regarding the liability of the carrier in the realm of air transport.

In fact, in relation to a fact consisting in the overturning of a boiling coffee on a passenger, who reported burns, during a flight, , and for which She sued the Austrian airline for damages pursuant to art.17 paragraph 1 of the Montreal Convention, the matter concerning the exact scope of the concept of accident (with reference to the Montreal Convention of 1999 - to which more than 80 States agree - on air transport) was referred by the Austrian national Court to the European Court.

First of all, on its competence to decide, the European Court in its judgment of 19 December 2019 stated : “that the Montreal Convention, in force with regard to the European Union since 28 June 2004, constitutes, from that date, an integral part of the European Union and that, consequently, the Court has jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings on its interpretation (judgment of 12 April 2018, Finnair C‑258/16, EU:C:2018:252, paragraphs 19 and 20 and the case law cited)”.

The European Court, called upon to rule on the extent of the notion of an accident referred to by the Montreal Convention in art.17 paragraph 1, has established that is covered by this concept any situation on board of an aircraft “in which an object used for passenger service has caused personal injury to a passenger, without any need to state whether such situations result from a risk inherent in air transport” and reiterating that the Montreal Convention “In accordance with the third paragraph of the preamble to the Montreal Convention, the States Parties to the Convention, recognising «the importance of protecting the interest of users of international air transport and the need to ensure fair compensation in accordance with the principle of restitution», also decided to provide for an objective liability regime for air carriers”.

Therefore, the European Court does not consider that is necessary for the accident to have arisen from a flight risk  to order the airline to pay compensation to the passenger.

It is important to highlight this aspect from the point of view of the burden of proof: in such cases the injured person (passenger) will therefore only have to prove the fact to ensure his right to compensation is recognized, without prejudice to the provisions of Articles 20 and 21 of the Montreal Convention.

Of course, each case has its own specificity which must be examined.


Milano, 21 February 2020

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