New Judgment: Stott v Thomas Cook Tour Operators Ltd  UKSC 15
05 Wednesday Mar 2014
On appeal from:  EWCA Civ 66
The appellant is a man paralysed from the shoulders down who depends on his wife to manage his needs when travelling by air. He and his wife booked flight tickets with Thomas Cook and were repeatedly assured they would be seated together. This turned out not to be the case and the appellant had extreme difficulties both boarding the aircraft and during the flight, which the cabin crew did not assist with. The appellant brought a claim under the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1895) which implement EC disability rights regulations. These Regulations enable civil proceedings in UK courts for breaches of the EC Regulations, and state that compensation awarded may include sums for injury to feelings. Thomas Cook argued that the Montreal Convention, an international treaty which governs the liability of air carriers in international carriage by air, precluded a damages award for injury to feelings. Under Arts 17 and 29 of the Convention, damages can only be awarded for harm to passengers in cases of death or bodily injury.
The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal. Although the appellant was treated in a humiliating and disgraceful manner by Thomas Cook, his claim falls within the substantive and temporal scope of the Convention, and as a result damages cannot be awarded for injury to feelings. The only true question in this case was whether the claim fell within the scope of the Convention; there was no dispute between the parties as to the interpretation of the relevant EC or UK Regulations or their compatibility with the Convention.
Lady Hale considered it disturbing that the Convention excludes damages claims for breaches of individuals’ fundamental rights, and the parties to the Convention should address the grave injustice done to those in the appellant’s position.