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US Supreme Court on rights for international airline passengers

Washington, DC-, the nation’s largest airline passenger organization, has joined forces with an aggrieved airline passenger whose personal injury claim was denied by a Federal Appeals

Washington, DC-, the nation’s largest airline passenger organization, has joined forces with an aggrieved airline passenger whose personal injury claim was denied by a Federal Appeals court.

In a hastily written and very short 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit struck a blow to passenger rights guaranteed by the Montreal Convention. There was, however, a very lengthy dissenting opinion.

FlyersRights and Travelers United have filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court after the passengers filed an appeal.

In Von Schoenebeck v. KLM a seat back collapsed on the head of a passenger, causing severe spinal injuries. The airline refused to compensate the passenger for the injuries, even up to the no fault or strict liability amount for personal injury found in the Montreal Convention. Instead, the airline sought a bond for its own attorney fees and costs from the passenger in the South African court. The airline suggested the passenger litigate in the United States, and when the passenger filed in California, the airline sought dismissal based on a novel interpretation of the 2-year statute of limitations.

The 9th Circuit refused to recognize claims against airlines timely filed in other countries unless also filed in the United States. This is a shocking interpretation of the Montreal Convention, the treaty providing for airline passenger rights in international travel. The Montreal Convention was designed to achieve uniformity of rule governing causes of action against airlines. Unless reversed by the Supreme Court, airline passengers on international flights will have to file claims against airlines in multiple countries in order to preserve their rights.

FlyersRights also has an appeal pending in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the FAA’s refusal to regulate seat size and leg room on airplanes.