How the Montreal Convention Works in Air Crashes
The Montreal Convention governs the pursuit of compensation for personal
injuries or wrongful death in an international aviation accident. If you
or a loved one were harmed in an
international plane crash, you need a skilled aviation accident attorney to analyze the circumstances
of the incident to determine if the Montreal Convention applies.
A preeminent plaintiffs firm with a track record of success, Wisner Baum
has extensive experience representing people from across the globe who
were injured or lost loved ones in
If you would like to learn more about our experience in international plane
crash cases, contact us or call (855) 948-5098 to speak with an attorney.
What is the Montreal Convention?
The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air,
commonly known as the Montreal Convention, is an international treaty that regulates and somewhat limits airline
liability for injury, death, and lost or damaged baggage or cargo that
occurs during international travel.
When an international airline flight crashes, the Montreal Convention addresses
and determines the airline’s obligations, including passenger rights
and compensation. The international treaty applies only to air carriers,
not aircraft and parts manufacturers, the federal government or airport
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency
of the United Nations that controls international travel, approved the
Montreal Convention in 1999. The United States Senate ratified the treaty
on Nov. 4, 2003. Today, the Montreal Convention includes more than 130
Flights Governed by the Montreal Convention
In basic terms, the treaty applies to the international carriage of persons,
baggage or cargo by aircraft. International carriage is defined as any
flight between two countries who have ratified the Convention, or any
domestic flight that also stops at a point in another foreign state.
The use of multiple carriers does not change the international nature of
the flight, nor does a layover within a country. For example, if someone
is travelling from Los Angeles, California to Jamaica with a layover in
Orlando, Florida, all portions of the trip are subject to the Montreal
Convention, including the domestic flight from Los Angeles to Orlando.
For any flight covered by the convention, an air carrier is liable for
passenger injury or death from an accident on board, or during embarking
or disembarking. Accident is broadly and flexibly defined. The U.S. Supreme
Court has held that an accident is “an unexpected or unusual event
or happening that is external to the passenger.” In fact, even acts
of terrorism, hijacking and intentional assault are considered to be “accidents”
under this definition.
The Warsaw Convention of 1929
As international air travel became a reality in the 1920s, the need for
an appropriate global regime to govern air carriers led to the
signing of the Warsaw Convention in 1929. The Convention unified an important sector of private aviation law.
The passing of time brought new technological and legal realities that
necessitated changes to the original draft. The first came in 1955 at
The Hague, Netherlands, and another came in 1971 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
The Hague Protocol created a new and separate legal instrument that was only binding between
the parties. For example, if one country was a party to the Warsaw Convention
and another was a party to the Hague Protocol, neither had an instrument
in common, which meant there was no mutual international ground for litigation.
Without consolidation, the undesirable result was confusion created by
the concurrent operation of multiple instruments within the Warsaw Convention.
The overwhelming need to modernize and consolidate all mechanisms of the
Warsaw Convention into a single uniform text led to the Montreal Convention.
Changes from The Warsaw Convention to The Montreal Convention
The most significant change in the Montreal Convention is an increase in
liability limits for injury or death. The Warsaw Convention and its related
agreements limited personal injury liability to a relatively low amount
unless a judge found “willful misconduct” by the airline.
The Montreal Convention establishes a two-tier approach to liability, based
upon the significance of the damages.
Regardless of fault in the accident, the air carrier is liable for personal
injury or death damages up to 100,000 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), which
is currently about $140,000, unless the carrier can show that the claimant
contributed in whole or part to the harm. The actual value varies depending on
the currency exchange rate at any given time.
- For damages over 100,000 SDRs, the carrier will be liable without limit
unless the carrier can prove that it was not negligent, or that a third
party was solely responsible for the accident.
The Warsaw Convention did not provide for inflation. The Montreal Convention,
which ties the value of damages to SDR units rather than simply setting
a strict monetary cap, allows the available damages to rise with inflation.
In addition to changing the damages available, the Montreal Convention
added a fifth venue choice for a passenger bringing a lawsuit for personal
injury. Under the Warsaw Convention, injured people were limited to pursuing
their legal claims in the courts of any state party to the Convention where:
- The carrier is domiciled.
- The carrier has its principal place of business.
- The carrier has a place of business and the travel contract was made.
- The air travel journey ended.
Now, under the Montreal Convention, an injured person can also bring a
lawsuit in his or her place of permanent residence, as long as the air
carrier has sufficient contact there as defined in the treaty. Again,
this reflects a shift from an approach that benefits airlines to an approach
that is friendlier to consumers.