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Passengers to Los Angeles Suffer Mid-flight Illness Outbreak

The passengers and cabin crew of Flight AA109 suffered an illness outbreak whilst airborne en route from London to Los Angeles. 

On Wednesday 27 January, two hours from take-off the American Airlines flight turned back when passengers on board the LA-bound flight became sick due to an unidentified illness outbreak. At present it is reported that three passengers of the Boeing 777 felt unwell, followed by five members of the cabin crew – one of whom fell unconscious. The sufferers reported a burning smell and complained of dizziness. An on-board doctor tended to the sick crew members and the flight was turned around.

An investigation into the cause of the illness outbreak is currently underway. 

How do In-Flight Injury Claims Work?

As we have discussed in our previous blog, Does an On-Board Accident Claim Differ from Others?, the Montreal Convention covers accidents that happen during the course of international flights. In the case of death, injury or delay to passengers, or damage, or loss of baggage and cargo, the Montreal Convention holds the airline liable for any air accident compensation claims.

Under the terms of the Montreal Convention, an accident may include:

  • A collision on the runway
  • Collapsing seatback
  • Falling luggage
  • Burns and scolds from hot food and drink
  • Food poisoning
  • An air crash

In the circumstances of Flight AA109, if the source of the illness was the food or drink served upon the aircraft, then the affected individuals would almost certainly have a claim against the airline for personal injury, as the illness is more likely than not to amount to an accident in accordance with the Montreal Convention, i.e. it was an unexpected or unusual event and it was external to the passenger. This would also apply if the source of the illness was the aircraft itself but it’s very hard to comprehend in what circumstances the aircraft would be the actual source. Certainly the checks completed on the ground did not reveal the aircraft as the source.

The situation becomes muddied given the inability to pinpoint the source of the illness, and proving that it was external to the passenger without knowing the cause could make it very difficult for them to pursue the airline even though liability is essentially strict. That said, if they were not unwell before they were on the aircraft, the illnesses were not the result of their own internal responses (they were the cause of the illness), and it was an unusual and unexpected event, which this appears to be, they may have a claim. This would probably be the cause of great debate but I do not think a claim is beyond the realms of reasonableness especially in a strict liability regime.

Hopefully the illnesses were short-lived for both the passengers and the cabin crew. It is likely that the exact source of the illness will never be known and the mystery illness will remain just that: a mystery.

Stephen Goodman is a travel lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

If you or your holiday party are injured in an aviation accident our No Win, No Fee Solicitors can help you with your claim for air accident compensation.

Call us on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online. From outside the UK please call +44 20 7657 1555.

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