Thursday 13 December 2018

Woman (51) ordered to pay Ryanair legal costs after losing €60k claim for falling down stairs at Dublin Airport

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Stock picture

Ray Managh

A woman who fell down the exit stairs of a Ryanair plane at Dublin Airport three years ago has lost a €60,000 damages claim for personal injuries against the airline and has been ordered to pay Ryanair’s legal costs.

Judge Jacqueline Linnane said Sabrina Melloni had been carrying two pieces of hand luggage and her handbag as she disembarked from a Boeing 737 and had not availed of the handrails on either side of the steps.

Barrister Andrew Walker, counsel for Ryanair, had told the Circuit Civil Court that Ms Melloni, a 51-year-old multilingual customer care co-ordinator, of Beechfield House, Oulton Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3, had been exiting a London to Dublin flight at 11:30  on the morning of New Year’s Eve when she slipped and fell.

Mr Walker, who appeared with Peter Lennon of Ronan Daly Jermyn solicitors, said she had brought the claim under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention on the basis that the stairs which had been lowered from the body of the aircraft had been wet and slippery and had caused her fall.

Judge Linnane, handing down a reserved judgment, said a full defence had been delivered by Ryanair and Mr Walker had specifically pleaded that the claim or incident did not come within the provisions of Article 17 of the convention and Ms Melloni was therefore precluded from maintaining any cause of action against Ryanair.

The judge said it had not been disputed that Ms Melloni had fallen and been injured when using the stairs but Ryanair had denied they had been wet.  Ms Melloni had fallen on her face and had suffered a bump to her forehead and soft tissue injuries that had cleared up after some months.

Mr Walker had told the court that Article 17 of the Convention provided:  “The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.”

Judge Linnane said the Montreal Convention had been transposed into Irish Law through the Air Navigation and Transport (International Convention) Act of 2004 and provided an exclusive cause of action and sole remedy against the carrier and restricted a claimant to proceedings against the carrier.

She said Ms Melloni had been with her nine-year-old daughter at the time and they were disembarking from the front of the aircraft after up to 70 other passengers had disembarked ahead of them without incident while using the same stairs.

Judge Linnane said Ms Melloni was in front of her daughter and had been carrying both her own piece of hand luggage and that of her daughter, along with her handbag, and had not been using the handrails when she had fallen down a number of steps, landing on the tarmac.

The judge said Mr Walker had claimed that what had taken place was not “an accident” within the meaning of Article 17 of the Convention and had quoted American and UK legal authorities, in the absence of Irish authorities, to support his contention.

The U.S. Supreme Court had concluded that liability under Article 17 arose only if a passenger’s injury was caused by an unexpected or unusual event or happening that was “external to the passenger,” a definition that should be flexibly applied after assessment of all the circumstances surrounding a passenger’s injuries.

The U.S. Court held that when an injury indisputably resulted from the passenger’s own “internal reaction to the usual, normal, and expected operation of the aircraft, it has not been caused by an accident” and Article 17 could not apply.

Existing law had noted the importance of a uniform interpretation of the Convention being applied to all signatory states as adopted by Mr Justice Fennelly in the Irish Supreme Court 17 years ago when he outlined the desirability of the Convention being interpreted with reasonable consistency.  Inconsistent decisions could, he decided, lead to forum shopping.”

Judge Linnane said Ms Melloni’s evidence was that it was raining and she had not been afforded assistance as she disembarked but had not asked either of the two cabin crew for help. On behalf of Ryanair a senior supervisor had stated it was not raining and the steps were dry.

The judge said weather records for December 31st 2015 showed there had been no rain recorded in Dublin until 4 p.m. that afternoon, more than four hours after Ms Melloni had fallen.  She found her fall was not an “accident” within the meaning of Article 17 of the Convention.

The court concluded that Article 17 contemplated, by the term accident, “a distinct event, not being any part of the usual, normal and expected operation of the aircraft.”

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