The European Court of Justice has ruled that airlines should be held liable if they provide inadequate first aid following an accident that injures a passenger during a flight.
The case resulted from an accident on board a 2019 flight from Tel Aviv to Vienna on Austrian Airlines. The plaintiff was burned when a jug containing hot coffee fell from the catering trolley and scalded him. The crew subsequently administered first aid, which was inadequate and resulted in aggravated injuries. The Austrian Supreme Court asked the ECJ to determine whether inadequate first aid administered on board an aircraft in response to an accident is considered to be part of that accident.
The Court ruled that inadequate first aid administered in response to an accident is part of the accident: “The Court notes that it is not always possible to attribute the occurrence of
damage to an isolated event where that damage is the result of a series of interdependent events. Thus, “where there is a series of intrinsically linked events that take place successively, without interruption, in space and time, that series of events must be regarded as constituting a single ‘accident’ within the meaning of the Montreal Convention.”
Under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, airlines are liable for most injuries sustained by passengers following an inflight accident or during boarding and disembarking, irrespective of airline negligence, up to a compensation limit of 100,000 SDR (Special Drawing Rights, roughly equivalent to $175,000), and for compensation claims above that amount, the airline is presumed to be at fault, with the onus on the airline to prove that the damage was not due to
the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of the airline or airline crew, or that the damage was solely due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of a third party.
Could This Mean Better Airline First Aid Kits and Training?
While the case doesn't detail how the airline's first aid was insufficient, it does raise the question of whether for other accidents, an airline's poorly stocked first aid kit and/or insufficient crew first aid training could render an airline liable for insufficient first aid when responding to other accidents, such as animal attacks or allergic reactions. Given this case precedent, airlines serving Europe should want to avoid transporting faux support animals that are insufficiently trained and could potentially attack a passenger, and should want to stock their first aid kits with the following, which aren't always in airline first aid kits:
- Epipens (typically airlines only carry epinephrine and syringes forcing administration by a medical professional, not auto injectors such as Epipens that can be administered by crew or another passenger)
- Oropharangeal airway
- Automatic blood pressure cuff
Source: Case C-510/21
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