The European Court of Justice is having a larger influence on people’s lives than is popularly realised.
As is often the case the Court has made a decision which will have an impact on consumers in Europe and perhaps world-wide and which was not picked up by the majority of the consumer press, rather only by lawyers who are specialised in the field of aviation law.
Both as lawyers and travellers, we are all aware of the provisions of the law concerning the payment of compensation for flight delays as set out in European legislation but the Court has taken it one step further in its application of the Montreal Convention.
The case in question (ECJ, Case No. C-429/14; Air Baltic Corporation AS v Lietuvos Respublikos specialiųjų tyrimų tarnyba) was based on a dispute between Air Baltic and the Specialist Investigation Service of the Republic of Lithuania (SIR) and depended upon the construction and interpretation of Article 19 and Article 22.1 of the Montreal Convention concluded in May 1999. The case also highlighted an issue concerning different translations of the Montreal Convention and how they should be interpreted taking into account the provisions of the Vienna Convention of May 1969 concerning the Law of Treaties.
The facts in the case are straightforward. SIR bought from Air Baltic two tickets to transport two of it’s personal from Vilnius to Baku. There were a number of stops on the route and the agents were delayed and could not make the connecting flight in Moscow and therefore arrived in Baku one day later than originally scheduled. SIR, therefore, was responsible for paying additional costs to the two agents involved. It was these additional monies amounting to approximately 338 Euro that SIR claimed from Air Baltic. Air Baltic refused to pay and SIR obtained a judgement against Air Baltic to pay this amount. Air Baltic appealed to the Lithuanian Supreme Court who referred the matter to the European Court of Justice.
Article 19 of the Montreal Convention provides that carriers are bound by general obligations to compensate for any “damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo”. Whilst specifying that damages are to be paid it does not specify who has had to have suffered the damage.
The judges considered in detail the provisions of this clause and used a number of approaches. They came to the conclusion that is clear from the wording of Article 19 that whilst not expressly for an air carrier to be liable to an employer…..in the event of damage caused or occasioned carried out pursuant to a contract of international carriage binding that employer and carrier tends itself to be interpreted as implying not only to damage caused to passengers themselves but also to damage suffered by an employer.
Concerning Article 22 whilst there was a difference in the translation of the wording, the French translation being of “damage to passengers” the English, Spanish and Russian versions does not restrict the payment of damages only to passengers. Article 22 lays down the limits that can be payable it does not affect the interpretation of to whom the compensation has to be paid.
Article 22 was important in this case with respect to the amount of damage. The question had arisen as to whether the damages could be limited to the amount payable to a single passenger or could apply to all passengers for whom an employer was liable to pay compensation for any delay.
Having considered all the facts and arguments the Court held that the Montreal Convention applied to all contracts of carriage by air and allowed a contracting party to claim from the carrier for any damage that they suffered. Therefore Air Baltic, in this case, was liable to pay damages to SIR as SIR had a contract of carriage by air with Air Baltic which fell within Article 19.
As to the limit of liability, the Court also decided that the amount of the claim by an employer could be the maximum for each passenger (employee) that could be claimed under Article 22 and not by reference to a single passenger.
The importance of this case should not be lost on employers. They should consider in future whether they purchase in their names the air tickets for their travelling employees so that there is a contract of carriage between the airline and the employer or allow the employees to purchase the air tickets from the airline in their name. The key to all of this is that any person who has entered into a carriage by air with a carrier will be in a position to claim against the carrier for damages provided that they can fall within the interpretation given in this case. This could be very important to an employer.