Case Studies

Securing compensation in a novel point of law, following personal injury on an aircraft

September 5, 2023
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The Incident

Our client, a 57 year old strategic inventory manager, was injured during the course of a flight from Lanzarote to Manchester in September 2018. During the flight, whilst our client was sat in his seat on the aircraft, he was struck on the head by a box which fell from an overhead locker. The accident caused a lump to his head and some bruising.

In the days after the accident, he developed a sensation of increasing pressure in his head with a slurring of speech and poor balance. He also experienced paraesthesia around the eye and light-headedness. In the weeks and months that followed our client experienced problems with spatial awareness, lack of concentration, dizziness and psychological symptoms; including anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Following the accident, our client was off work for three months, due to his psychological reaction to the accident. Upon his return to work, he started working three days in the office and two at home, to assist him returning to work and considering his psychological symptoms. Fortunately, our client was still paid by his employer during his absence.

Further, the psychological effects of the accident had a significant impact on our client’s everyday life. Our client felt what should have been an enjoyable, more stress-free period of his life (as he had paid off his mortgage, and his adult children had moved out) became anything but.

The Law

We obtained expert medical evidence from brain and psychological experts, who advised that the accident, which in and of itself appeared to be fairly innocuous, had in fact triggered the development of significant psychological symptoms. It was the consensus opinion of the medical experts that, save for the lump to the head and some bruising, all our client’s subsequent symptoms were a psychological reaction to the accident.

As the accident happened onboard an airplane, the rules around fault and the damages that our client could recover, were governed by an international treaty called the ‘Montreal Convention.’

The convention says that, if someone is injured during the course of a flight, they only need to show that what happened was an accident, which normally means something unexpected or unusual. There isn’t a requirement to prove negligence on the part of the airline. Therefore our client just had to show that you wouldn’t expect to be hit on the head by a box falling from an overhead locker during a flight – he didn’t need to prove that it happened because of negligence.

However, the way the Montreal convention had, to this point, been applied by the English Courts, suggested that unless our client could prove the psychological injuries he sustained were caused by a physical injury, he couldn’t recover damages for it – as the Montreal convention seemed to limit damages to ‘bodily injury’ only.

In other words, unless he could show he sustained brain damages (which he could not, as he suffered only a soft tissue injury to his head) the law as it stood, suggested he was limited to compensation for the soft tissue injuries.

The Case

However because the Montreal convention applies in lots of different countries, we were able to do some research and found a recent case, decided by the American courts, in which a claimant was able to recover for psychological injuries – even though they didn’t have a physical cause. The American decision said that as long as a claimant had sustained some ‘bodily injury’, that meant they could also recover for any other injuries sustained.

We decided that we would issue court proceedings in our case, and seek to persuade the English court that this ‘new’ interpretation of the Montreal convention should be the correct one. In doing this, we became the first firm of solicitors in England to issue proceedings arguing this novel point of law.

The Case Outcome

Shortly after we issued court proceedings, the Defendants, obviously aware of the strength of our argument, made a settlement offer which, on our valuation included full compensation for our client’s psychological injury (as well as his physical injuries).

As a result, the case didn’t get before a judge, but because we had in depth knowledge of the law in this area, we were able to prepare a strong argument for our client and secure a great outcome for him.

The compensation sum included money for psychological therapy, to enable our client to continue his recovery and help him put this awful part of his life behind him.

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