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When an air traveler is injured on an international flight, understanding how to bring a claim for compensation and which law applies to the claim can be confusing. Fortunately, Canada (along with 133 other states) has ratified an international treaty known as the “Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air”, frequently called the “Montreal Convention” for short. The Montreal Convention establishes liability guidelines for air carriers and provides legal recourse for passengers who were injured while traveling on an international itinerary.
The Montreal Convention recognizes protection of air travelers interests and compensation for injuries they have suffered as a result of an “accident” during a flight or when the passenger is embarking or disembarking an aircraft. Unlike a standard injury claim, a claim brought under the Montreal Convention has a presumption of negligence against the carrier. This means that when a passenger is injured during their international air travels, it is presumed that the airline was negligent. In legal terms, the carrier’s liability is “strict” – meaning that they are liable for the full extent of the passenger’s damages if the damages claimed by the passenger do not exceed 128,821 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) (approximately $249,000.00 CAD). If the claim for damages exceeds 128,821 SDRs, the carrier can limit its liability by proving the damage was caused by the negligence or other wrongful act of the person claiming compensation.
The strict liability of the Montreal Convention is of extreme benefit to injured passengers, but it only applies to international carriage. This begs the question: what exactly constitutes an international carriage under the Montreal Convention?
As an example, someone flying on a direct flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Toronto, Canada is clearly traveling on an international flight. This person, if they suffered an injury caused by an “accident” in-flight or during embarking/disembarking the aircraft, would be able to file an injury claim under the Montreal Convention.
But what about an injury on a domestic flight that is part of an international itinerary? If you’re traveling domestically as part of a multi-flight international itinerary, the Montreal Convention regards that domestic leg as part of international carriage if both parties (i.e. the carrier and the passenger) had knowledge that the domestic flight was part of a longer international flight itinerary. Because of this, two passengers on the same flight, who suffer an injury due to the exact same event, could have completely different legal remedies available to them. Let’s look at an example to help clarify this.
A man from Vancouver is in Florida for vacation. For his journey home, he takes two flights, one from Miami to Chicago, and another from Chicago to Vancouver. On the flight from Miami to Chicago, the man is injured when luggage in the overhead compartment falls out and strikes his leg. He wants to seek compensation for the injury sustained. Even though the flight he was injured on was a domestic US flight, this US leg was part of an international itinerary (planning to fly from the US to Canada); therefore, he is eligible to bring a claim under the Montreal Convention against the carrier.
On the other hand, the woman who was sitting next to this man on the Miami to Chicago flight had a one flight itinerary that began in Miami and ended in Chicago. She was also injured by the luggage, suffering an injured wrist. This woman would not be able to make a claim under the Montreal Convention because she was not traveling on an itinerary with international carriage. Her only recourse would be to sue the carrier for negligence, all the elements and breach of which she must prove in order for her claim to succeed.
As an air traveler who was injured, it’s important to distinguish between an international itinerary and a domestic itinerary. Being injured on a domestic flight either before or after you were on an international flight affords legal remedies under the Montreal Convention. If you were injured during a flight or while embarking/disembarking a flight on an international itinerary, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today. We will ensure that you receive the compensation you’re entitled to.