Massachusetts Court Discusses Claims Against Airlines Under the Montreal Convention

Passengers of planes are not immune to injury, but when their injuries are caused by another party’s intentional or negligent act, it may not always be clear when and where their claims must be filed. This was demonstrated in a recent ruling issued by a Massachusetts district court, in which the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims due to the plaintiff’s failure to file an action within the time constraints set forth under the Montreal Convention, which establishes the requirements for pursuing certain claims against airlines. If you were injured during a flight, it is advisable to speak to a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding what steps you may be able to take to protect your interests.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Harm

It is reported that the plaintiff, a Massachusetts resident, embarked on a flight on a plane owned by the defendant airline. The flight departed from Boston and landed in London the following day. During the flight, a flight attendant accused the plaintiff of stealing luggage. Thus, without the plaintiff’s consent, his belongings were searched, and he was detained on the plane after it landed, and in the airport in London until it was determined he did not take the missing luggage.

Allegedly, approximately three years later, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant in a Massachusetts court, which the defendant moved to the district court. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims were governed exclusively by the Montreal Convention, and were therefore barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The district court agreed with the defendant’s reasoning, granting the motion. The plaintiff then appealed.

Continuing Torts and the Montreal Convention

The United States is a signatory to the Montreal Convention, which is a treaty that governs liability claims against international airlines such as the defendant. Thus, if a claim falls under the purview of the Montreal Convention, the treaty provides the sole avenue for seeking recourse and preempts all local claims for damages, even if they do not meet the conditions for imposing liability under the Montreal Convention.

In the relevant part, the Montreal Convention provides that an airline will be strictly liable for an accident that causes an injury when the accident occurred on the aircraft or while embarking or disembarking. To be considered an accident, an event must arise from an unintended occurrence, and liability will only be imposed for injuries caused by unexpected events, as personal injuries that do not arise from an accident are not covered. Further, a plaintiff seeking damages under the Montreal Convention must file a claim within two years of the date of harm.

In the subject case, both parties agreed that the accident that occurred was the false imprisonment of the plaintiff, which is a continuing tort under Massachusetts law. The plaintiff argued, however, that because the tort began in one place and ended in another, it allowed for two separate causes of action, and the harm that occurred after he disembarked from the plane did not fall under the Montreal Convention. The court rejected this argument, finding it had no basis in the law, and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Capable Massachusetts Attorney

If you suffered harm before, during, or after a flight, it is prudent to speak to an attorney about what claims you may be able to pursue for your injuries. The capable Massachusetts personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are adept at handling complex matters, and we will develop effective arguments on your behalf to help you seek the full amount of compensation recoverable. We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 or through the form online to set up a meeting.