Accidents Abroad

Virgin Atlantic traveller, awarded compensation after hot coffee scalding accident, calls for in-flight changes

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Anne Thomson

Litigation Executive

5 min read time

A holidaymaker, who was scalded by hot coffee while returning home on a Virgin Atlantic flight, says airlines should only serve hot drinks with secure lids to prevent future in-flight accidents. 

The 55-year-old traveller from Cambridgeshire was flying from Jamaica to Heathrow in January 2022, having spent time in Montego Bay.

Sat next to his partner on the nine-and-a-half-hour flight, the plane was experiencing turbulence when the cabin crew began serving breakfast.

“The seatbelt signs were on, so I was surprised that they were continuing to serve hot drinks,” recalled Stuart Harris.

“I asked for coffee and, as it was being placed on the tray in front of me there was some turbulence and the next thing it spilt all over the top of my legs and bottom of my torso.  I could feel the scalding liquid travelling down around me and I thought it’d cool down in a second, but it just went on. It was very, very unpleasant and painful.”

An air steward immediately brought ice and a second Virgin Atlantic crew member offered the man a gel-based gauze dressing and escorted him to the plane’s toilet. 

“Well, the shape of dressing was really designed to wrap around a leg or an arm, it was difficult to apply to the affected area,” said Mr Harris. 

On arriving home in the UK, his skin blistered and the man sought the advice of a medical professional within the family.

“I was advised there was nothing a hospital could do that I couldn’t do myself to help the burns heal. It was very uncomfortable, and it took up to 12 weeks to heal and has left residual scarring.” 

The family was unaware a claim for compensation for the in-flight accident could be made until, around six months later, one member read a newspaper article about a similar case where a child was successfully represented by Hudgell Solicitors’ travel claims expert Anne Thomson.  

“When I read it, I thought, well that’s almost the same thing that happened to me and the article explained that under the Montreal Convention, claims can be made even if no one is at fault. Before that, I didn’t know I had a case.”

Airplane accident claim brought under the Montreal Convention

The Montreal Convention governs international air travel.  The Convention imposes a form of strict liability on airlines for 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’. 

 After contacting Hudgell Solicitors’ travel litigation team for legal advice the man was advised by Anne Thomson that a case could be brought.

Anne Thomson confirmed: “Hot drink spills on airplanes are not uncommon. They can be painful, and the consequences can ruin holidays, disrupt travel plans and, in some cases, affect people’s ability to return to work.

“This incident was clearly an accident for the purposes of the Montreal Convention and I was confident the claim would be successful.” 

The scalding incident had been recorded by the plane’s crew, however, Virgin Atlantic initially denied liability on the basis that nothing unusual or unexpected had happened on the flight.  After expert medical evidence was submitted, the airline then agreed to a compensation award and made an offer of £2,370.  

“Having represented many clients in Montreal Convention cases I knew that this amount was too low considering the pain, discomfort and scarring experienced in this incident. Eventually, it was successfully settled for £4,375,” said Ms Thomson. 

Mr Harris, who runs his own business, said he was “very satisfied” to receive the compensation. 

“I am not a litigious person, but I felt there was a case to answer. Anne has been marvellous, but what I hope will happen next is that airlines will change the way they serve hot drinks.  Serving them without lids on planes needs to end. Virgin has accepted responsibility in my case, and I hope it will consider its practices.  

“I recently flew with Ryanair and the coffee cup not only had a secure lid on it, but a gauze was also covering the aperture where you drink from. It’s altogether much safer.” 

In-flight Accident and Injuries Compensation Claims

Accidents happen on board aircrafts 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 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.

Read more: In-flight Accident and Injuries Compensation Claims

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