2nd August 2019
Lionel Stride, instructed by Rebecca Smith at Irwin Mitchell, has successfully represented the Claimant in a High Court claim arising out of his fall whilst descending disembarkation steps at Milan Airport. Margaret Obi, sitting in her capacity as a Deputy High Court Judge, was satisfied that this caused ‘an unusual or unexpected event external to him’, constituting an ‘accident’ within the meaning of Article 17 of the Montreal Convention 1999 (“the 1999 Convention”).
The case focused primarily on the judicial interpretation of ‘accident’ under the 1999 Convention, namely whether there had been an unusual, unexpected or untoward event, external to the Claimant, causing death or injury, on board an aircraft or in the course of embarkation or disembarkation. There was no legal authority precisely on all fours with the claim. The Defendant contended that the accident was one of ‘pure omission’ (i.e. a failure to clear away snow from the disembarkation steps), which could not constitute an accident within the definition of the 1999 Convention. The Claimant submitted that there was a chain of events leading to his injuries, namely a combination of rain and snowfall prior to landing; the decision (against stated policy) to use uncovered steps despite the weather; the decision (against stated policy) not to clear the steps of snow prior to fixing them to the aircraft; and the compacting of snow on the steps by other passengers prior to the Claimant’s disembarkation, all of which led to the Claimant’s fall from the disembarkation steps. It was argued that the ‘unusual event’ was the positive decision by the airport to use uncovered stairs, without ensuring that they were free of contamination.
Delivering judgment in favour of the Claimant, the Judge agreed with Mr Stride’s submissions that there was a chain of causes which led to the Claimant’s injuries. Though there was nothing inherently unusual about the adverse weather conditions, the use of aircraft stairs without a canopy was ‘a positive decision on the part of the airport personnel’; the decision ‘involved a series of actions and omissions culminating in the aircraft stairs being aligned to the aircraft and the authority being given for the passengers to disembark’. This in combination constituted an “event”. The Court found that, against the standard practices at the airport, the stairs had not been cleared of snow by the time the first passenger disembarked the aircraft, causing compacted snow to form on which the Claimant would ultimately slip. Accepting the arguments of Mr Stride, she found that ‘the event was unusual from the point of view of the Claimant … he had no reason to expect that the stairs would be slippery due to compacted snow. Therefore, the event was unexpected and unforeseen from his perspective’.
The Defendant failed to beat the Claimant’s previous Part 36 Offer and was ordered to pay enhanced interest and indemnity costs from the date of expiry of the offer.