Federal Court Of Appeals Finds Question Of Fact Whether Airline's Use Of Airstairs With Uneven Last Step Constitutes "Accident" Under Montreal Convention
Because there was no evidence that the staircase design was “unusual for mobile staircases” or otherwise “atypical from other mobile staircase designs,” the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the airline, dismissing the passenger’s claims. Moore v. British Airways PLC, 511 F. Supp. 3d 1 (D. Mass 2020).
On appeal, the First Circuit court reversed, holding that a question of fact remained for the jury as to whether “disembarking on a staircase constructed in this way should be considered ‘unexpected or unusual’ under the circumstances.” Moore v. British Airways PLC, 2022 WL 1284016, *4 (1st Cir. 2022). While accepting the district court’s reasoning that the event was not “unusual,” the First Circuit highlighted the different meanings between the words “unexpected” and “unusual” in the Saks definition and held that the trial court erred by not also analyzing whether the event was “unexpected.”
After reviewing the history of the text and prior opinions from other jurisdictions, the court held that the inquiry into “whether an event is unexpected and, thus, may be found to be an accident” is an objective one, “judged from the perspective of a reasonable passenger with ordinary experience in air travel.” Applying this test, the court rejected the passenger’s argument that the incident was an “accident” as a matter of law, but concluded that a reasonable jury could find that the passenger’s injuries were caused by an Article 17 “accident.”
Whether other courts will adopt the First Circuit’s “reasonable passenger” test for determining whether an “accident” occurred under Montreal remains to be seen.