Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Milestones: Wallace v. Korean Air, 214 F.3d 293 (2d Cir. 2000)


A passenger was sexually assaulted by another passenger sitting next to her while being on board of the plane operated by the defendant Korean Air Lines. (The perpetrator was arrested upon arrival in Los Angeles, the plane's destination, and pled guilty in the Central District of California.) The plaintiff passenger sued the airline under the Warsaw Convention and sought summary judgment, which was denied. 

Under the Warsaw Convention, air carriers are presumed to be liable for passenger injuries caused by an "accident."  The court noted that there were two competing definitions of an "accident"--a narrower one that restricts the definition to incidents involving a characteristic risk of air travel, and a wider one involving any incident in the course of embarking, disembarking or on board of an aircraft. Without determining the definition, the court held that a sexual assault met even the narrower definition of an "accident," and found in favor of the plaintiff.


The law on air travel is always fascinating--an easy disproof for those who are skeptical of the truth that international law is indeed a law. There are few other areas of the law where there is essentially strict liability for anything that happens in a certain location.

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