Passenger state law claims preempted by Montreal Convention

Malek v. Societe Air France (N.Y. City Civil Ct. Sept. 8, 2006).  Due to a late-arriving flight, the passenger missed his connecting flight.  The airline arranged for alternate carriage on a different airline, for which the passenger had to wait eight hours.  He claimed that the delay inconvenienced and exhausted him, and also claimed that the airline damaged his baggage.  The passenger sued for breach of contract and deceptive business practices.

Since the events at issue took place in 2005, the Montreal Convention applied.  The court held that the passenger’s state common law claims were preempted by the Convention, since it specifically addresses delays and lost baggage.   After noting that the Convention allows, but limits, delay and baggage damages, the court picked $1,000 as a nice round figure to award the plaintiff.  The opinion does not disclose any basis for this specific amount; this type of (precedent-setting) “rough justice” is often seen in state courts, which is why airlines often remove even small claims cases to federal court.  This case is troubling not only because the court apparently picked a random number as damages, but because (i) the plaintiff prevailed on his delay claim even though it appears that the airline did everything it could have to avoid the damages caused by the delay, which should have resulted in its exoneration under Article 19, and (ii) the items of baggage allegedly damaged — camera equipment, wine bottles, a vase and paintings — are specifically prohibited from checked baggage by every airline’s conditions of carriage.

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