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Boy with fear of flying fails in bid to sue airline

DAMAGES cannot be recovered against an airline for the mental distress of plummeting 25,000 feet to an emergency landing, a judge has heard.

Barrister Barney Quirke told the Circuit Civil Court that under the Warsaw Convention a passenger could not ground a claim for compensation purely on psychological injury.

He said four-year-old Dylan Kavanagh was on a plane which suddenly lost cabin pressure, plummeted 25,000 feet and lost power in one engine before being diverted for an emergency landing at Gatwick.

Mr Quirke told Circuit Court President Mr Justice Matthew Deery that although Dylan had suffered psychologically, he was not entitled to compensation because there was no physical manifestation of the injury.

He said Dylan, now aged 14, of Cloiginn Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin, was on a holiday flight with his mother Linda in May 2000 from Dublin to Faro in Portugal when the incident occurred. Mr Quirke said the atmosphere on the aircraft was hysterical and Dylan had been extremely shocked and distressed.

When the ordeal in the cabin was over the Air 2000 flight had been diverted to Gatwick Airport where there had been an engine failure followed by an emergency landing, causing further distress and trauma.

The Kavanagh family had returned to Ireland from Gatwick by land and sea and continued their holiday. Dylan is now afraid of flying.

Mr Quirke said Air 2000 had maintained a defence under the convention and the Air Navigation and Transport Acts on the grounds that Dylan had suffered purely psychological injuries unaccompanied by any physical injury.

He said the convention stated: "The carrier is liable for damages in the event of death or wounding of a passenger ... if the accident which caused the damage took place on board the aircraft."

Mr Quirke said it was well settled in law that purely psychological injury was not sufficient to ground a claim.

Dylan had not suffered any direct physical injury and the prospect of obtaining expert medical evidence that his injury was, in effect, physical or had physical manifestations was extremely remote.

Mr Quirke said the UK-based airline, and travel agents, Falcon Leisure Group (Overseas) Ltd, Pearse Street, Dublin, had offered Dylan a without prejudice payment of €2,500. He felt obliged in the circumstances to recommend the court's approval of the offer. Judge Deery agreed and approved of the offer.