(Please note, this matter is not currently being litigated in Australia)On 4 November 2013, 250 passengers and eight crew on an arriving Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca to Montreal had to evacuate when the baggage conveyor belt ignited at the aircraft’s open cargo door. The Boeing 767 had to have its evacuation slides deployed for the precautionary evacuation. Media reports indicate seven passengers were treated for smoke inhalation and lower body injuries caused during the slide out.
The legal context of compensating the injured passengers in this unusual scenario presents some peculiarities of aviation accident law as opposed to traditional compensation laws. Air carriers are required to compensate passengers for injuries caused as a result of an “accident” if the accident which causes the injuries took place onboard the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking. The liability regime which applies is set out in a multilateral treaty, the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, done at Montreal on 28 May 1999 (commonly referred to as the Montreal Convention), to which both Morocco and Canada are parties. This regime does not rely on rules of negligence which are the norm in common law countries, nor on the civil law of obligations under Quebec law, which applies in Montreal (unlike the rest of Canada), and a variation of which applies in Morocco.
An “accident” in international air law has been judicially described as an unexpected and unusual event which is external to the passenger, and which does not arise from the passenger’s own internal reaction to the usual, normal and expected operation of the aircraft. An accident may involve multiple acts or omissions as links in a causative chain which result in a passenger’s injury. In this case, the baggage conveyor fire and resultant trigger of an emergency evacuation due to the imminent danger to the aircraft and its occupants would likely satisfy the definition of “accident” in the Convention, whether a person suffered injury from smoke inhalation onboard or while exiting the aircraft, or suffered injuries from the evacuation itself. Under the Convention the airline has the right to recover the damages it is required to pay to passengers from the parties actually responsible for the fire.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: November 10, 2013.