Mid-Air Turbulence and the Montreal Convention


The July 10 incident involving American Airlines Flight 1780, in which mid-air turbulence caused injuries to flight attendants and passengers on a flight between Aruba and Miami, served as a reminder that injuries can and will happen on airplanes. Fortunately, those passengers and others traveling internationally have significant legal recourse.

The Montreal Convention, a treaty created by the world community in 1999, sets forth exact provisions for the compensation of injured passengers, whose flights either originate or are destined for an airport in another country.

The treaty, which amended important provisions of the Warsaw Convention’s regime concerning compensation for the victims of air disasters, re-established the uniformity and predictability of rules relating to the international carriage of passengers, baggage and cargo. One of its objectives is to facilitate the swift recovery of proven damages without the need for lengthy litigation.

“Unfortunately, many passengers are unaware of the Montreal Convention,” said aviation law expert Michael Slack of Slack & Davis. “They endure the pain and suffering that come after the incident, and then, depending on the circumstances, may think they have little or no recourse.”

Slack knows and fully understands what their options are, having represented plaintiffs who suffered injuries on American Airlines Flight 331, American Connection Flight 5966, American Airlines Flight 587, American Airlines Flight 1420, Continental Flight 1404 and a number of other major airline crashes over the past 20 years.

His partner, aviation attorney Ladd Sanger, added that there is a key differentiator when it comes to receiving compensation after such incidents.

“On domestic flights, you typically have to prove negligence on the part of the airlines,” said Sanger. “For example, if the pilots knew there was turbulence in the area, but did not advise the passengers or turn on the ‘Fasten Seat Belt” light.

“On international flights, the passenger doesn’t have to prove negligence. The Montreal Convention holds that the airline has a responsibility to passengers because they are in the airline’s ‘custody and care.'”

As a result, the following have been classified as accidents compensable under the convention: significant turbulence, falling baggage, malfunctioning seats and injuries on shuttle buses transporting passengers to aircraft.

Whether the injury happens on the tarmac or in the air, in Dallas or Dublin, travelers injured on international flights have additional recovery options available to them under the Montreal Convention.

Additional Resource:
Litigating Accidents and Injuries Under the Montreal Convention
by Ladd Sanger, Slack & Davis