The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Transportation by Air usually referred to as the Warsaw Convention (convention) is an international convention which regulates liability for international carriage of persons, luggage, or goods performed by aircraft for reward[i].
The convention was originally signed in 1929 in Warsaw. It was amended in 1955 at the Hague and in 1975 in Montreal.
The principal purpose of the Warsaw Convention was to:
- define the liability of the carrier in case of loss, damage, injury, or death due to accident on international flights;
- spell out procedures for claims and restitution; and
- lay down the requirements for format and content of air transport documents, passenger tickets, luggage tickets, and air consignment notes.
The cardinal purpose of the convention is to achieve uniformity of rules governing claims arising from international air transportation. It applies to all international transportation of persons, baggage, or goods performed by aircraft for hire[ii].
The most important feature of the convention was the determination of liability of air carriers in the case of an accident, both in regards to passengers and also baggage and cargo. It creates a presumption of air carrier liability but, in turn, substantially limits that liability. The convention created a comprehensive liability system to serve as the exclusive mechanism for remedying injuries suffered in the course of the international transportation of persons, baggage, or goods performed by aircraft. The remedial system is designed to protect air carriers against catastrophic, crippling liability by establishing monetary caps on awards and restricting the types of claims that may be brought against carriers.
Article 17 of the convention states that “the carrier shall be liable for damage sustained in the event of the death or wounding of a passenger or any other bodily injury suffered by a passenger, if the accident which caused the damage so sustained took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking[iii].”
The preamble of the convention states that the signatories recognize the advantage of regulating in a uniform manner the conditions of international transportation by air in respect of the documents used for such transportation and of the liability of the carrier[iv].
Article 19 of the convention states that the carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the transportation by air of passengers, baggage, or goods.
A passenger whose injury is not compensable under the convention will have no recourse to an alternate remedy. Therefore, recovery for a personal injury suffered on board an aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking, when not allowed under the convention, is not available at all. The convention’s preemptive effect on local law extends no further than the convention’s own substantive scope. The convention completely preempts all state tort law claims that fall within the convention’s substantive scope[v].
[i] USCS Warsaw.
[ii] Mbaba v. Societe Air Fr., 457 F.3d 496 (5th Cir. Tex. 2006).
[iii] USCS Warsaw.
[iv] Byrd v. Comair, Inc. (In re Air Crash at Lexington, Ky.), 501 F. Supp. 2d 902 (E.D. Ky. 2007).
[v] Smith v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94013 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 22, 2009).