Monday, 16 June 2014

Legal News: Flight Delay Claims: Court of Appeal judgment pushes the doors wide open

Evening all,

On my mind this week has been the Court of Appeal's judgment from 11th June 2014 in the case of Huzar v Limited. Apologies for writing about such a dry topic, however I am a lawyer by profession and I'm always interested in newsworthy developments in the law.

After the influx of PPI claims on recent years, the latest fad in the legal arena seems to be compensation for flight delays and cancellations.

Flight delay claims were often caught in a loophole whereby airlines can refuse compensation if the delay/cancellation was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ such as adverse weather conditions. Airlines used this argument to include technical problems that were not predictable despite regular maintenance and upkeep of the aeroplane. For anyone interested, a full list of those extraordinary circumstances can be found here

In the Huzar case, the Court of Appeal was asked to make a ruling on the definition of 'extraordinary circumstances'. The delay in this case was caused by a technical problem with wiring of a fuel valve light. It was accepted by all parties that the fault with the wiring would have been unforeseeable and would not have been detected by earlier maintenance. As such, Jet2 argued that the delay was outside of their control and therefore an extraordinary circumstance.

Lord Justice Elias advised that the following approach should be used:-

a flight is not covered by the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ within the meaning of that provision, unless that problem stems from events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control.” tried to argue that as the technical problem was unforeseeable, it could not be seen as being inherent in the normal exercise of the airline’s activity.

The Court of Appeal considered the arguments and applied a common sense approach. They considered (1) what caused the problem, and (2) was that cause out of the ordinary. In Mr Huzar's case, the technical fault arose as a result of wear and tear to the aeroplane. The Court held that wear and tear is entirely ordinary and could not be defined as extraordinary. As such, the airline were found to be liable to pay Mr Huzar the appropriate compensation arising from the delay.

So, what importance does the judgment in the Huzar case have for other passengers experiencing flight delays or cancellations? The judgment was made by the Court of Appeal and is therefore binding on all County Courts in England and Wales. It should allow passengers to successfully claim compensation in some cases involving delays due to technical issues that have previously been rejected due to the extraordinary circumstances loophole.

And now for the practical advice... Can You Claim for Compensation for a Flight Delay or Cancellation?

The amount payable in a successful claim is for a fixed amount which is intended not to be a refund for the cost of the ticket but rather to represent compensation for the delay/cancellation. The amount is calculated in Euros and is set by Article 7 of the Denied Boarding Regulations (EC Regulation 261/2004).  It is dependent on the length of the flight and the length of delay.

Flight Distance                Delay                           Compensation   
Up to 1,500km                More than 3 hours              €250
More than 3,500km       More than 3 hours              €250
Up to 1,500km                Between 34 hours              €300
Up to 1,500km                More than 4 hours              €600

The main criteria for obtaining compensation for delays and cancellations are:-
  1. It’s only applicable to EU flights - the flight can be any leaving an EU airport, or an EU airline arriving at an EU airport from a non-EU country.
  2. You can only claim compensation for delays stretching back to February 2005.
  3. Compensation is only available for flights arriving three or more hours late at your final destination.
  4. The delay must be due to the fault of the airline - the delay has to have been caused by something within the airline’s control such as staffing problems or not having the aircraft in place. You are unable to claim compensation for issues outside of the airline’s control, such as bad weather or political unrest.
Most solicitors will take the claim on a Contingency Fee basis, this means that they will agree to take on the claim in return for a percentage of any scompation received. The usual percentage in such cases would be around 25%. 

If I experienced a flight delay or cancellation, now that I am aware of the rules for compensation, I might write to the airline depending on how lengthy the delay was. However,  I very much doubt that I would be prepared to go to the trouble of instructing a solicitor only to give away 25% of the already limited compensation. I'm not sure it would really be worth my time, effort or sanity to do so. 

I would be interested to hear your thoughts. If you experienced a flight delay or cancellation would you consider claiming against the airline or do you consider this new fad to be yet another example of 'compensation culture' gone crazy? 

Ginger Cat x

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