Accidents Abroad

Damages awarded to skier after British Airways mid-flight drinks trolley smashed into knee

Drinks trolley on plane

Anne Thomson

Senior Litigation Executive

7 min read time

A skier whose knee was injured after a drinks trolley hit him mid-flight forcing him to spend days in an airport hotel has been awarded damages.

Our client was travelling with British Airways when the onboard accident happened but despite leaving the plane in a wheelchair and then being advised to fly home for medical treatment the airline refused to amend his return ticket.

He had to cancel his five-day skiing trip where he planned to meet with friends at Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California as he was left wearing a knee brace. On returning, and following a further examination, he was diagnosed with an injury to his patella tendon.

He then contacted Hudgell Solicitors travel litigation experts and was eventually awarded damages of £11,125.  The case settled without an admission of liability.

‘My knee was really swelling; the pain was excruciating’

Our client was flying to San Francisco in January 2020. The businessman, who lives in Sweden, began his journey in Stockholm with British Airways and transferred to the flight to California in London.

He says it was an hour or so into the ten-hour flight when the accident happened as he was sitting in his aisle seat: “I was dozing when the trolley came along, I didn’t see or hear it coming. When it hit me I saw stars. The pain, it went straight up my leg and through my spine. I shouted, ‘whoa what are you doing’, I was left shocked.”

The air steward, he said, tried to brush the matter off and continued down the aisle serving drinks. “During the flight my knee was really swelling, the pain was excruciating and there was a lot of discomfort,” he recalled.

He said there was no announcement that drinks were being served and no member of staff called out as the trolley approached. He reported the incident to the flight’s chief bursar who, he says, examined his knee, noted the swelling, and said there was concern over thrombosis.

He says he was moved to a seat with more leg room and offered in-flight pyjamas to provide him with looser clothing, he was also given “lots of ice and ibuprofen”. When the plane landed in San Francisco he was taken off in a wheelchair, straight to the airport’s medical centre.

“The doctor there looked at the injury and told me I would not be skiing or driving. He told me I should return to Sweden as soon as possible as it would need treatment, but my return ticket was not for five days.”

The medical advice was to return home as soon as possible for further treatment, but, says our client, that proved impossible due to the airline’s intransigence: “I showed British Airways the medical report, but they told me I would have to buy another ticket at my own expense if I wanted to return earlier. The insult to injury was severe,” he recalled.

‘That was more injury than the injury itself’

Our client said the airline could not have been less helpful: “British Airways would not change my ticket; I was really upset. That was more injury than the injury itself. The customer service was so poor. I was told I could write a letter to customer relations or speak to someone at the airport check-in desk.

“I went to the desk, told them what had happened, showed the report and gave them the details of the chief bursar on the flight so they could check the circumstances. They refused, saying they ‘didn’t have the authority’”.

He said by this time he had already booked into an airport hotel and then decided that he would “just have to wait it out” and catch his original flight home.

The holiday injury claim was brought under the Montreal Convention which governs international travel by air. The Convention imposes a form of strict liability on airlines when it comes to personal injury during a flight or during one of the processes of embarking or disembarking at an airport.

Passengers do not have to prove fault. However, the person making a claim for damages must establish that there has been an ‘accident’. To be a ‘qualifying accident’ under the Convention, there must be an ‘unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger’.

Hudgell Solicitors’ travel litigation executive Anne Thomson said our client’s case highlighted that it is possible in certain circumstances for a law firm in the UK to take on cases from travellers resident in other countries which involve accidents occurring during a flight or during one of the processes of embarking or disembarking.

“We are seeing an increasing number of overseas clients making enquiries about accidents which occur during the course of international carriage by air. If our client had been flying directly from Sweden to America on a Swiss or American airline, we would not have been able to assist him.  However, because he flew via London Heathrow with an English airline, we could.

“Our client’s injury was caused by a heavily laden trolley hitting his knee and this type of incident is, unfortunately, not uncommon.

“Other types of ‘accidents’ for the purpose of the Montreal Convention are items falling from overhead lockers, spillages of hot drinks and accidents on the bus taking passengers from the terminal to the aircraft and vice versa,” she said.

‘I think this was something akin to a speeding ticket for British Airways’

Our client says he was pleased with the award but was not convinced his case would change British Airways’ customer service culture:

“I still have a knee injury and I think this case was just something akin to a speeding ticket for British Airways. I’m not sure it will change behaviour, I’m not sure they really care. I haven’t flown with them since as a matter of principle. I think they’ve been very arrogant.”

Our client, who runs a logistics firm in Sweden, says the accident on holiday claim could have been avoided: “I wrote to British Airways personally and explained the situation. I asked them to acknowledge fault and cover the expenses of the flight and hotel. I thought they should also offer something for the injury. But they slammed the door on the letter. What they did do was offer me some AVIOS points. They made the matter much worse.”

The client, who is a dual Swedish and US national, says he chose a British law firm as, “in Sweden a firm wouldn’t take a case like this on contingency, I would have to pay upfront to employ a lawyer. So, I emailed Hudgell Solicitors and asked if they were interested in my case, and I had a reply right away saying yes. Replies were always so quick and clear and that impressed me’ the customer service was certainly better than it would be in Sweden.”

If you’ve been injured onboard an aeroplane or helicopter while travelling for work or leisure, you may be eligible to make a personal injury claim for the injuries and trauma you’ve suffered — helping to cover the cost of rehabilitative care and loss of earnings.

Accidents happen onboard aircraft every day, and normally through no fault of those affected. In cases where you’ve been injured in an accident on a plane, our specialist holiday accident claims solicitors can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

We’ve helped people make air accident claims for incidents involving air disasters, avoidable trips and falls, hot liquid spills, and accidents caused by the actions of other passengers or cabin crew. Whatever your circumstances, our travel solicitors can help you make a successful aeroplane accident claim.

For free legal advice, contact our travel litigation specialists today or begin your claim here.

Read more: Making an Airplane Accident Abroad Claim

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