Airlines liable for hot drink spills, says EU court
Getting a hot drink or meal on a flight could become a thing of the past after Europe's top court ruled that airlines could be held liable if a passenger is injured by a spilled drink - even if no one is at fault.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled "an airline is liable for the harm caused by a spilled cup of hot coffee. It is not necessary for that accident to relate to a hazard typically associated with flight".
The ruling stems from a case taken by a six-year-old girl who was seeking compensation from the now-defunct Austrian airline Niki Luftfahrt. She was scalded when a coffee being served to her father spilled over her during a flight from Spain to Austria. The airline had argued it should only be liable for accidents involving flight-related hazards, which is covered by the Montreal Convention.
The international airline treaty, signed in Montreal, Canada, in 1999, established common rules for airlines to follow regarding passenger rights when it comes to flight delays and cancellations, lost luggage and injuries.
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The European Union and 132 members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) are signatories to the treaty. The airline argued the Montreal Convention does not define the term 'accident'.
However the court ruled damages should not be restricted to flight-related hazards - like turbulence - that could cause a cup to spill.
But it found an airline may not be liable if it can prove that a passenger caused or contributed to the mishap.
Meanwhile, the European consumer organisation BEUC said the ruling means airlines must now ensure passengers are given food and drinks only in safe conditions on flights. "Consumers do not expect to be hurt when drinking a warm drink on a plane," said Agustin Reyna, BEUC's head of legal affairs.
The court ruled that the EU's legal definition of an accident "covers all situations occurring on board an aircraft in which an object used when serving passengers has caused bodily injury to a passenger, without it being necessary to examine whether those situations stem from a hazard typically associated with aviation".