Fall during aircraft disembarkation: Exemption from liability for airline only with proof of contributory causation by the person who fell

Airplane exit

Foto:, Thomas Thiele

Fall during aircraft disembarkation: Exemption from liability for airline only with proof of contributory causation by the person who fell
If a passenger falls on an aircraft staircase, the liability regime of the Montreal Convention applies. The European Court of Justice has ruled that the airline can only be (partially) exempted from liability if it can prove that the passenger's conduct contributed to the accident. It is up to the national courts to decide to what extent this is the case.

In the present case, a passenger fell on a mobile staircase while disembarking from an aircraft and broke her forearm. She was not holding on to the handrails when exiting via the stairs, as she was carrying a handbag in her right hand and her son on her left arm. Her husband, who was descending the stairs in front of her, had almost fallen himself at the same point. The woman sued for damages for pain and suffering amounting to almost 4,700 euros, as well as compensation for the payment of a home help. The airline objected that the woman had seen her husband almost fall in front of her and still had not held on. The woman, on the other hand, stressed that she had used the stairs with particular care after seeing her husband's near fall. The stairs had been slippery, partly because of drizzle. The district court dismissed the claim because the airline had not breached its duty of care and the woman had not taken any precautions to prevent her fall. The staircase, which had been inspected by the German Technical Inspection Agency (TÜV), had neither been defective nor slippery, oily or greasy. The cause of the fall remained unexplained. The Court of Appeal referred the case to the ECJ on the concept of accident in Art. 17(1) and the exemption from liability in Art. 20 of the Montreal Convention.

The ECJ first held that a fall during an aircraft disembarkation, as in the original case, is an accident within the meaning of Art. 17(1) of the Montreal Convention. This also applies if the airline has not breached its duty of care. For a (partial) release from liability, the airline had to prove that the passenger had contributed to the damage through his or her behaviour. The fact that the woman did not hold on to one of the handrails of the stairs could have contributed to the damage, the ECJ emphasised. However, it should not be disregarded that the woman was travelling with a minor child whose safety she had to ensure. According to the ECJ, it was also relevant for the assessment of the case that the woman had not sought immediate treatment after the accident, which may have aggravated the injury. In this context, however, it also had to be taken into account how severe the injuries appeared to be immediately after the accident and what information the passenger had received from the medical staff on site.

Go back