To not follow flightcrew’s instruction did not exonerate airline from liability

On January 14 2015 the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court handed down judgment in Arie Goldman v El Al Airlines and obliged El Al to indemnify the plaintiff for bodily injuries sustained during take-off.(1)

Background

On January 10 2007 the flight in question departed from London to Tel Aviv. The plaintiff argued that his right knee was injured by a meal trolley which had come free during take-off.

El Al denied liability and argued that even if the meal trolley had not been properly secured, the plaintiff should bear total liability as he acted contrary to instructions when he stretched his leg out into the aisle and did not sit in an appropriate manner as any reasonable person would have done.

In view of the above and based on Article 21 of the Warsaw Convention, El Al argued for exemption from any liability.

There is no dispute regarding the applicability of the Warsaw Convention to this case. The Israeli Carriage By Air Law applies the convention to this claim, as well as the Hague Protocol since it came into force in Israel in 1964 and the Montreal Protocol since March 2002. Article 17 of the convention sets the carrier’s liability and Article 21 exempts the carrier from liability in the event that the injured party caused the damage or contributed thereto, wholly or partially.

Decision

The court reached the conclusion that El Al had been negligent in that the latches of the trolley had not been properly locked by the cabin crew and that this had caused the damage.

The court did not accept El Al’s argument regarding contributory blame on the part of the plaintiff. The judge stated that El Al’s carriage of passenger rules make no mention of proper or improper seating during take-off or landing. Therefore, it was unreasonable to expect passengers to remain seated without moving their legs during the flight when there was no express guidance in this respect.

Further, the court did not accept El Al’s argument that the plaintiff’s field of vision was clear and that he should have noticed the meal trolley approaching rapidly and therefore removed his leg from the aisle.

The plaintiff argued that the meal trolley approached him rapidly from a short distance, hence he had no time to react.

The court ruled that the plaintiff’s explanation was acceptable as a reasonable passenger cannot foresee a meal trolley suddenly falling on his leg.

Based on the above, the court reached the conclusion that Article 21 of the convention did not apply to this case and that El Al was liable based on the provisions set out in Article 17.

The court determined that the plaintiff suffered from 10% functional orthopaedic disability as a result of the accident and ordered payment of IS148,000 ($37,000) plus legal fees by El Al as indemnification to the plaintiff.