Montreal Convention & Warsaw Convention
Liability of airlines for injuries to passengers is governed in Canada by two international conventions, The Montreal Convention – 1999 and the Warsaw Convention. These two conventions or international agreements deal with rules governing liability incurred in international travel. Canadian courts have followed these conventions with lawsuits in Canada for injuries due to international air travel.
In order to be successful, one must get past Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention which holds that, “Not every identifiable incident or occurrence during a flight is an accident within the meaning of Article 17 even if the incident or occurrence gives rise to an injury.” This is a significant hurdle which does not exist in Alberta for motor vehicle collisions and injuries.
Thus the courts have held that air turbulence is not generally considered unexpected or unusual and up to some level of severity, it is a commonplace aspect of air travel. Therefore, a claim brought as a result of injuries sustained from light, moderate or possibly even severe turbulence will likely not succeed.
Airline Liability for Personal Injury to Passengers
Nevertheless, in certain unusual circumstances an airline may be liable. For example, in the 2005 Air France accident at Toronto Pearson International Airport in which the pilots did not activate the reverse thrusters immediately on touchdown (in fact 12 seconds later!) the 297 passengers were successful in bringing a class-action lawsuit against Air France and recovered $20.75 million to be divided amongst the passengers. Liability was not seriously contested by Air France and the damage issues were settled reasonably promptly at $20.75 million. Thus, in the right circumstances there certainly can be liability on an airline if it was negligent in some fashion. However, one should also note that the airline is only liable under the Montreal Convention for claims involving “bodily” injuries and not psychological injuries such as harrowing experiences, fear, distress, grief or mental anguish, which are arguably the more likely injuries in many minor airline incidents.
Bottom line: you will have to be involved in a serious airline accident and the airline will have had to have done something significantly different from the standard of care expected of an airline.