‘Exposing a Grave Injustice’: Montreal Exclusivity and the Rights of Disabled Passengers: Stott v Thomas Cook [2014] UKSC 15

Dr Jeremias Prassl

On March 5, 2014 the Supreme Court handed down its judgment in Stott v Thomas Cook (previewed for the UK Supreme Court blog last autumn here). The case had attracted significant interest domestically and internationally, with the claimant supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Secretary of State for Transport intervening on his behalf.

Facts

During a journey from Zante, Greece, to East Midlands Airport in the autumn of 2009, the claimant Mr Stott, paralysed and permanently dependent on a wheelchair, suffered from a breach of his rights under the EU’s Disability Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006, as implemented in the United Kingdom by the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1895). The trial judge assessed compensation at £2,500 but saw himself unable to make such an award due to the exclusive application of the Montreal Convention of 1999 (‘MC’).

Thomas Cook had relied on that international convention’s uniform rules governing liability under the contract of carriage by air, suggesting that their exclusive scope of application was a well-established principle in domestic, European Union and international law and that passengers could therefore not seek redress under domestic law. Article 29 MC stipulates that

In the carriage of passengers, baggage and cargo, any action for damages, however founded, whether under this Convention or in contract or in tort or otherwise, can only be brought subject to the conditions and such limits of liability as are set out in this Convention […]

The United Kingdom is a contracting party to the Montreal Convention, the provisions of which have also been incorporated into EU law by Regulation (EC) 889/2002. Giving the only substantive judgment for the Court of Appeal, Maurice Kay LJ had found in favour of the airlines on the basis of Article 29 MC:

The real injuries to [the claimants’] feelings […] were sustained at times when the Montreal Convention governed their situations. Its exclusivity both provided and limited their rights and remedies. Accordingly, their claims for compensation for injury to feelings could not succeed. [54]

Judgment

Judgment for the Supreme Court was given by Lord Toulson, with whom Lady Hale and Lords Neuberger, Reed and Hughes agreed. Following a summary of the facts and the relevant provisions in domestic and European Union law, his Lordship turned to a discussion of the Montreal Convention, ‘Article 29 [of which] is the rock on which Mr Stott’s claim for damages foundered’ [32].

Counsel for Mr Stott had suggested that the exclusivity question raised an important point of EU law and that the MC should not be applicable to the present case, which fell outside both its substantive and temporal scope. This could be illustrated by reference to joined Cases C‑581/10 and C‑629/10 Nelson and TUI Travel plc and Case C-344/04 ex parte IATA, where the CJEU had repeatedly found that the provisions of Regulation 261/2004 for compensation and assistance to passengers in case of delayed or cancelled flights were not incompatible with the MC, but rather a complementary regime of passenger protection. In rejecting this point, and the related request for a preliminary reference under Article 267 TFEU, Lord Toulson suggested that EU law as such was not engaged, or in any way manifestly clear, as the CJEU had held in ex parte IATA [at paragraph 42], that claims for damages on an individual basis would be subject to MC exclusivity, and Mr Stott’s claim was so founded.

Counsel for the Secretary of State for Transport, on the other hand, focussed on the temporal dimension of the claim, suggesting that the Regulations had been breached long before Mr and Mrs Stott’s embarkation. This argument, too, was rejected: on the facts, the actual injury had taken place only once aboard the aircraft, and also to avoid ‘encourag[ing] deft pleading in order to circumvent the purpose of the Convention’ [60]. Lord Toulson adopted the reasoning of Sotomayor CJ in King v American Airlines (see discussion below), and held that the quality of the cause of action was irrelevant: the Montreal Convention was designed comprehensively to deal with air carriers’ liability from the moment of embarkation until disembarkation. Continue reading

Delay payday: the Court of Justice upholds Sturgeon

Mike Armitage

On 23rd October 2012, the CJEU handed down its judgment in Joined Cases C-581/10 and C-629/10 Nelson/TUI. The ruling, which has been much-anticipated by airlines and passengers alike, confirms that fixed compensation under EU legislation is available not just to those whose flights have been cancelled, but also – in certain circumstances – to those who have suffered delays. While those have suffered the iniquities of delayed flight may welcome the ruling, there is reason for some alarm at the interventionist approach of the CJEU to the interpretation of the EU regulation which was at issue. Continue reading