Can I claim compensation for injuries sustained on flights?

Published 13 Mar 2018

More than half of Australians use air travel for business or leisure in a given year, according to Roy Morgan Research. In the 12 months to September 2016, 10.1 million people took at least one flight.

With Australians amassing more than 31 million air trips in total over that time, it's not surprising that accidents happen and passengers sustain injuries. But what are the rules surrounding compensation claims on domestic and international flights?

Here is a brief overview of the relevant legislation, as well as the circumstances under which you can pursue damages.

What pieces of legislation cover this type of liability claim?

The three main pieces of legislation typically called upon for accidents that occur on flights are:

  • The Civil Aviation (Carriers Liability) Act 1959;
  • The Montreal Convention 1999; and
  • The Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW).

The Civil Aviation Act governs the carriage of passengers on flights, with international airlines and journeys specifically covered through the Montreal Convention.

Signed by over 100 countries, the Montreal Convention states that a carrier is liable for damages for bodily injuries and deaths resulting from accidents that occur either on-board or while embarking or disembarking.

A US Supreme Court decision, which Australian courts have adopted, found that incidents are only considered accidents if they are an unexpected or unusual event that happens externally to the passenger.

Finally, the Civil Liability Act 2002 is the state-specific legislation used in NSW to calculate how much compensation a plaintiff receives if they are successful with a flight injury claim.

Real examples of compensation claims on flights

Establishing whether an accident has occurred can be tricky. For example, in the New York Supreme Court case Weintraub v International Airways, the judge ruled that sudden turbulence resulting in hearing loss and balance problems for passengers was an accident and deserved compensation.

However, Air France v Saks saw the plaintiff turned down for damages after she became deaf in one ear during a flight landing. The judge decided that landing a plane is a usual and expected part of flying, meaning it couldn't be ruled an accident.

A woman who claimed she suffered severe back injuries when she suddenly twisted her body after a flight attendant dropped hot coffee on her leg was denied compensation in 2015.

The case, Dibbs v Emirates, was rejected because the plaintiff failed to prove that her back problems were caused by the accident. In fact, she had a long history of back complaints to her GP prior to the flight.

Making a flight injury compensation claim in NSW

As we can see, claiming compensation for injuries suffered on a flight can be challenging for a number of reasons.

There are a number of state, national and international legislative issues, as well as various precedent cases to consider when pursuing damages. A strict two-year time limit is also in place when proceeding with a claim.

You should therefore contact a personal injury lawyer at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers as soon as possible to begin the process if you have recently been injured on a flight.