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A recent survey by National Geographic revealed that one third of British people are more scared of flying now than they were ten years ago. Aviation has hit the headlines in recent times including the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight in 2014.

Despite this, the evidence suggests that you are far more likely to die driving to the airport than you are to be involved in a fatal plane accident. According to a Harvard University study, the odds that your plane will crash are 1 in 1.2 million. Even less likely is that you will due from a crash where the odds are 1 in 1 million. This is stacked against the chances of dying in a car crash which are in 1 in 5,000.

Statistics aside, what happens if you are involved in an accident while travelling by air?

The Law

Air carrier liability is covered by the Montreal Convention if you are travelling internationally. This provides that an airline is liable for damages if a passenger is injured or killed on board the aircraft when embarking or disembarking.

Domestic flights are covered by UK law. You would be able to claim against the responsible airline using UK Law.

When can I claim?

There are several different circumstances that could give rise to a claim following an accident on board a flight. These include:

  • overhead luggage falling on passengers
  • hot drinks being spilled on passengers
  • accidents whilst embarking or disembarking 
  • food poisoning caused by in-flight meals
  • severe turbulence

And at the more extreme end of the scale, plane crashes and terrorist attacks.

For claims involving international flights, it is not necessary to prove that the airline was negligent. This is referred to as "strict liability". This means that it is generally not necessary to prove that the airline was at fault in some way. There are of course exceptions to this principle, for example, if the airline can prove that the injury was caused or contributed to by the negligence of the injured person then they may be partly or fully exonerated from liability. 

The present position seems to be that psychological injury without any accompanying physical injury will not result in a successful claim for damages. On that basis, fear of a terrorist attack or a plane crash would not be enough to claim damages for personal injury.

Where can I claim?

There are usually a number of options available for where you can raise your claim if the accident occurred on an international flight. This will depend on the following factors:

  • the country where the airline is domiciled (usually with reference to where the board of directors sits)
  • the country where the airline has a place of business through which the contract was made (in other words, where the ticket was purchased)
  • the destination country for the flight (for return flights, this will be the same as the place of departure)
  • the country where the passenger has their principal and permanent residence provided the airline operates passenger carriage services in that same country 

We can advise you on the best place to make your claim. Where you bring your claim can have an impact on the potential compensation available. 

How much is my claim worth?

The amount of compensation you may be entitled to will depend upon a number of factors which include the following:

  • the severity of your injuries
  • the law on compensation in the country in which you raise the claim
  • the circumstances of the passenger such as their income. This will impact past and future financial losses
  • the age and income of the deceased in fatal accidents

For example, in England, for families who lose loved ones, the pain and suffering element (bereavement payment) is capped at £12,980 for a limited type of close relatives. On the other hand, in Scotland, this is known as "loss of society" where such caps do not apply and the class of relative is wider.

If the Montreal Convention applies to your case, the airline should make an advance payment without delay to assist you and your family. The amount of this payment is normally around £17,000 and must be paid within 15 days. We can help to ensure that this payment is made on time.

We can assist with obtaining compensation for all the loss and costs associated with aviation liability claims.

How long do I have to claim?

Time limits can vary in aviation liability claims. If the accident occurred on an international flight, in terms of the Montreal Convention, the claim must be brought within two years of the date of the accident. This is shorter than the usual time frame of three years within which claims for personal injuries must be brought in the UK.

It is therefore even more important in aviation claims that you contact a solicitor as soon as possible. 

How can we help?

Our specialist team can assist with claims in the complex area of aviation liability and guide you through the process step by step.

If you have suffered an injury in an air accident or you have lost a loved one and think that you may have a claim, please contact us to discuss the matter on 0800 988 8082 or complete our online enquiry form and a member of our team will get back to you right away.


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