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Neither unusual nor unexpected

“Who do you blame for accidents?” is an often-Googled question.

At the High Court in Manchester, an additional search phrase of a “claim for damages under the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, opened for Signature at Montreal on 28 May 1999 (“the Montreal Convention”)” was recently used in a case of personal injuries on a flight to Hamburg.


In December 2017, Mr Arthern (the appellant) flew Ryanair (the defendant) from Manchester to Hamburg. On his unchallenged evidence:

“…it was very cold on the morning of the flight… It was wet on the ground, perhaps from ice or from freezing fog, which was also present. The flight was delayed. [The appellant] was told at the airport that the reason for the delay was because the aeroplane had to be de-iced. Once that had been done, the passengers walked across the tarmac to get to the aeroplane. They did not board from a boarding bridge. A short time into the flight, he got up to use the toilet and he slipped near to the toilet door. He told me that he noticed after he fell that his clothes were wet, and that he had slipped on what in his witness statement was described as a large amount of fluid on the floor… He was not sure whether the liquid was just water alone – it seemed to him to be a mixture of de-icer and water, which made a kind of slushy substance that was similar to wallpaper paste. He said the effect upon him of stepping on it was as though he had stepped on black ice.”

A witness statement on behalf of Ryanair stated:

“When conditions outside of the aircraft are wet, moisture can be walked into the cabin by passengers when they embark the aircraft. This is normally very limited and quickly dries…

It would not be usual for cabin crew members to mop or clean the floor in these circumstances or during the course of a flight (unless there is a spillage of some kind).”

The trial judge dismissed the appellant’s claim on the basis that his injury “had not been caused by an unusual or unexpected event” within the meaning of the Montreal Convention.

The appellant appealed to the High Court.


Under the Montreal Convention:

“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.”

Mrs Justice Farbey focused on the requirement that the injury was caused by an “accident”. There was no need to consider whether Ryanair was negligent.

The proper test for what is an “unusual” or “unexpected” event is from the objective standpoint of the ordinary, reasonable passenger experienced in commercial air travel with reasonable knowledge of common airline practise.


“Standing back, I am not persuaded that the grounds of appeal seek anything other than the substitution of my judgment of what is “unusual” or “unexpected” for that of the judge. There is no traction in that approach: it would in effect amount to a rehearing and not a review.”

Appeal dismissed.

For more information about this article or any other aspect of litigation and dispute resolution get in touch with your Napthens team today.