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The Montreal Convention and Air Disaster Compensation

When you're traveling internationally, you may be injured in an air disaster. Bodily injury and wrongful death are the last things you should have to worry about on an international flight. It can be very confusing to figure out your legal rights. It's hard to know who to sue for compensation when:

  • The corporate headquarters of an airline might be in one country.
  • Passengers like yourself might be from another country.
  • The air crash may occur in a third country.

The Montreal Convention of 1999 is an international law that addresses air disaster compensation. It is formally known as the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air. It covers accidents involving claimants in countries that are parties to the convention.

What Is the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention is a treaty (international agreement) adopted by most countries. The parties to the convention are member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The ICAO is a United Nations agency with many state parties that are signatories. It establishes standards and regulations for international air navigation. Almost all U.N. members, including the United States, are part of the ICAO. That means the Montreal Convention covers most of the countries in the world.

The Montreal Convention expanded upon an earlier international treaty, the Warsaw Convention. The Warsaw Convention established standards for the international transport of:

  • Passengers
  • Baggage
  • Cargo

The Montreal Convention builds on the Warsaw Convention. It creates standards for international airline injuries. It also sets rules for the liability of air carriers when an accident occurs. Before the Montreal Convention, injured passengers faced more challenges. They often had to establish that the airline's willful neglect was the cause of the injury. The modifications made by the treaty were intended to:

  • Reduce litigation (decrease lawsuit complexities for passenger injuries)
  • Simplify the injury claims process

Montreal Convention and Damages

The Montreal Convention eliminates the need to establish an airline's negligence in certain situations. If you can prove you were injured in an airline accident, the airline may be strictly liable. In other words, you won't have to prove negligence when your injury damages are under a certain limit. Airline liability will automatically attach to the aviation accident.

The disclaimer for airline passengers is to be aware of damage limits in aviation law. The damage limits established under the Montreal Convention are based on special drawing rights (SDR or XDR). SDRs are an international monetary value set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They are equal to certain amounts of currency owned by IMF members.

Effective Dec. 28, 2019, the Montreal Convention limits are 128,821 XDR. As of October 2023, 1 XDR equals approximately $1.30. That means a Montreal Convention claim limit is just under $170,000. In other words, strict liability damages against airlines can be as much as 128,821 XDR. For example, suppose an international aviation disaster left you with $100,000 in damages. If you can prove your damages through medical bills, you'll be well within the convention's limits.

What if you're asking for damages over 128,821 XDR? Under the Convention, airlines can avoid liability by proving:

  • The accident was not caused by their negligence
  • The accident was solely caused by a third party's negligence

The Montreal Convention requires airlines to carry liability insurance. But it rejects compensation claims based on emotional and psychological damage. The Convention also requires airlines to provide compensation for:

  • Lost or damaged luggage
  • Delays of passengers or luggage if the airline failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the delay

Finally, the Montreal Convention creates:

  • Advanced payment requirements on claims against airlines
  • Increased liability for airlines if they cause delays in the payment of claims

Montreal Convention and Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction refers to a court or state's power to make legal decisions over a case. For example, American state courts have jurisdiction over domestic car accidents. But what if you're in an international air travel accident? Under the Montreal Convention, an injured party or their surviving loved one enjoys domestic jurisdiction. They can sue foreign airline carriers in the state in which they hold their principal residence.

Seeking Air Disaster Compensation? Contact a Local Attorney

The Montreal Convention is intended to promote passenger rights and simplify complicated headaches. It aims to streamline the process of claiming compensation following an air disaster. But physical injuries of an international nature can easily become complicated to litigate. An experienced personal injury attorney can help simplify the process. They can handle the necessary communications and filings on your behalf.

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