Air France v Saks: 1985

(United States Supreme Court) The claimant suffered damage to and become permanently deaf in one ear as a result of pressurisation changes while the aircraft descended to land. The pressure system had worked normally. The airline said that the normal operation of a normal pressurisation system could not qualify as an article 17 accident.
Held: The text of the Convention implies that, however the word ‘accident’ is defined, it is the cause of the injury that must satisfy that definition rather than the occurrence of the injury alone. ‘We conclude that liability under Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention arises only if a passenger’s injury is caused by an unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger. This definition should be flexibly applied after assessment of all the circumstances surrounding a passenger’s injuries.’ and ‘But when the injury indisputably results from the passenger’s own internal reaction to the usual, normal, and expected operation of the aircraft, it has not been caused by an accident, and Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention cannot apply.’ and ‘Any injury is the product of a chain of causes, and we require only that the passenger be able to prove that some link in the chain was an unusual or unexpected event external to the passenger.’


O’Connor J


[1985] 470 US 392


Warsaw Convention 17


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedIn re Deep Vein Thrombosis and Air Travel Group Litigation QBD 20-Dec-2002
The claimants claimed to have suffered deep vein thrombosis having been sat in cramped conditions for long periods whilst travelling by air. They sought compensation, saying that the failure by the airlines to warn them and take steps to minimise . .
CitedChaudhari v British Airways Plc CA 16-Apr-1997
The passenger injured himself as he fell from an aeroplane chair because of pre-existing injury.
Held: He had no claim under the Convention. The falling of a semi-paralysed person whilst he was trying to get to his feet to go to the lavatory . .
CitedMorris v KLM Royal Dutch Airlines CA 17-May-2001
An unaccompanied female passenger aboard an aircraft was indecently assaulted. She suffered mental, but no physical, injury. She claimed damages against the airline under the Convention.
Held: The assault was a special risk inherent in air . .
CitedBarclay v British Airways plc CC 27-Feb-2008
(Oxford County Court) The claimant slipped as she boarded an aircraft and sought damages for injuries to her knee. Her claim was brought under the Convention. The defendant denied that the injury occurred as the result of an accident, saying that an . .
CitedBarclay v British Airways Plc CA 18-Dec-2008
The claimant sought damages for personal injury. The airline said that the injury was not the result of an accident within article 17.1. She was walking down the aisle and slipped.
Held: The appeal was dismissed. The meaning of ‘accident’ . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Personal Injury, Transport

Updated: 28 May 2022; Ref: scu.182183