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Halloween Jubilation for Delayed Air Passengers! UK Supreme Court Refuses Airlines' Flight Delay Appeals

Posted on Oct 31, 2014 by  | Tags: air passenger rights, EU 261/2004, Jet2.com, Huzar, Dawson, Thomson Airways Ltd, Vergara, Ryanair Ltd, UK Supreme Court, Freezing Cases, sisted cases, stayed cases,  | 0 Comments

By Neil Morrison, Associate, Dispute Resolution

INTRODUCTION

The UK Supreme Court has announced its decision in two English Court of Appeal cases about airlines' liability to pay compensation after travel delays, Jet2.com Ltd v Huzar and Dawson v Thomson Airways Ltd

It has been reported in the UK media that 2 million air passengers a year have their flight delayed due to technical faults. These air passengers could now be entitled to compensation after appeals by the airlines were refused by the UK Supreme Court. The media have reported that the airline industry is now bracing itself to pay out £3.89 billion pounds  to air passengers' historic claims.

THE LEGAL ISSUES

The legal issue in the Jet 2.com appeal was whether an unforeseeable technical problem resulting in a delayed flight amounts to "extraordinary circumstances" under Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004. A detailed analysis of the case can be found in this blog post.  

The Thomson Airways appeal was whether the applicable limitation period for bringing a claim for compensation under Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 is 2 years, pursuant to the Montreal Convention, or 6 years, pursuant to the Limitation Act 1980. A detailed analysis of this case can be found in this blog post.

POSITION IN SCOTLAND

The position relating to whether a technical problem was an extraordinary circumstance had already been clarified in the Scottish unreported case of Weir & Barry v Ryanair Ltd, January 2014, where the Sheriff Principal held that a technical fault was not an "extraordinary circumstance". This pro-air passenger judgement mirrors the decision reached by the English Court of Appeal in Jet2.com.

It should be noted that the limitation issue had already been determined in favour of the air passenger in Scotland following the Sheriff Principals' judgementsin Vergara v Ryanair Ltd and Weir & Barry v Ryanair Ltd. An interesting moot point which was not determined in the case was whether in Scotland claims can be made as far back as 2005 since EU compensation may fall within the 20 year claim period under Scottish law (rather than the alternative which would be 5 years). 

PERMISSION TO APPEAL REFUSED

A panel of three Supreme Court Justices reviewed the relevant written submissions by the airlines and concluded that there was no arguable point of law in Thomson and no point of law of general public importance in Jet2.com. Accordingly, the Supreme Court declined to hear either airline's appeal and the Court of Appeal judgment in each case stands

The UK Supreme Court's Order reads:

"The Court ordered that permission to appeal be refused in Thomson because the application does not raise an arguable point of law; [and] permission to appeal be refused in Jet2.com because the application does not raise a point of law of general public importance and, in relation to the point of European Union law said to be raised by or in response to the application, it is not necessary to request the Court of Justice to give any ruling, because the Court's existing jurisprudence already provides sufficient answer."

CONCLUSION

There are many flight delay compensation cases in English County Courts which have been frozen (stayed) or were about to be frozen pending the appeal decisions . The author understands airlines were also attempting to freeze (sist) Scottish Sheriff Court flight delay cases on the same basis despite the UK Supreme Court's decisions in these cases not being binding on Scottish Courts.

The consequences of the UK Supreme Court's decision means that a significant number of frozen cases are now going to thaw out. Furthermore many cases which airlines were going to try and freeze will now have a safe passage to a final hearing on the merits in an air passenger friendly legal landscape.   

If you have any queries arising from this article, please contact our Dispute Resolution team on 0131 226 8200.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this blog post, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. No recipients of content in this blog post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of the blog post without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a qualified solicitor in their jurisdiction. The blog post is for general information only and is not legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction and jurisdiction. No solicitor-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a solicitor qualified to practise in your jurisdiction.  Should you be interested in seeking our assistance with a legal matter, please contact the Dispute Resolution team on 0131 226 8200

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