Injured passenger embraces Warsaw Convention then tries, without success, to avoid it

Sanchez-Morrabal v. Omni Air Services, Co. (D. Puerto Rico July 6, 2007).  Way back in 2001, the passenger fell off a ramp and injured his leg while boarding an aircraft in Honduras for a flight to Puerto Rico.  In his 2006 lawsuit against the airline, one of the passenger’s causes of action was for relief under the Warsaw Convention.  The airline moved to dismiss on the grounds that the passenger’s lawsuit was barred by Article 29(1) of the Warsaw Convention, which provides that “[t]he right to damages shall be extinguished if an action is not brought within 2 years, reckoned from the date of arrival at the destination, or from the date on which the aircraft ought to have arrived, or from the date on which the transportation stopped.”

Backpedaling furiously, the passenger moved for leave to amend his complaint to drop the Warsaw Convention cause of action.  The court granted the passenger’s motion but the amendment just rearranged a deck chair on the Titanic.  The court held that the Convention applied because both Honduras and the U.S. are signatories to the Convention and because, pursuant to Article 17, the passenger was “in the course of any of the operations of embarking” when the accident occurred.  The passenger argued that the Convention did not apply because he was not provided with a ticket, as required by Article 3, but the court correctly ruled that an airline’s failure to comply with the ticket requirement “does not affect the Convention’s applicability, only the airline’s ability to avail itself of the limits imposed on its potential liability.”  The court dismissed the lawsuit as time-barred pursuant to Article 29.

Note:  Because the two-year limit of Article 29 of the Warsaw Convention is a condition precedent to suit, not a statute of limitation, it is not subject to tolling.  The same is true with the two-year limit of Article 35 of the Montreal Convention, the successor to the Warsaw Convention.

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