Magana Cathcart & McCarthy

Supreme court milestone ruling gives boost to airline liability cases

For Immediate Release
March 10, 2004
Contact: Clay Robbins, III – (310) 553-6630

Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy (MC&M), a law firm specializing in aviation liability cases, announced today that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Olympic Airways vs. Husain has given a boost to the firm’s efforts to make international air carriers liable for passengers who develop Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), the potentially deadly blood clots linked to long flights.  The Court’s milestone ruling, which says an “accident” is not just limited to affirmative acts that result in injury but can also apply to a carrier’s failure to act, is directly applicable to the firm’s DVT cases currently awaiting a hearing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

“Airlines have denied DVT’s risks even though they’ve known about them for nearly 30 years,” said Clay Robbins III, MC&M’s lead attorney on DVT cases. “This ruling puts them on notice that they will be held accountable for failing to give passengers timely and adequate information about DVT’s symptoms and how to avoid life-threatening medical conditions during a flight.”

The DVT condition, also known as “the economy class syndrome” because it is caused by hours of sitting in cramped conditions, causes leg pain and swelling and can become fatal if a clot breaks loose from the veins in the legs and travels toward the chest.   Most at risk are pregnant women, those over the age of 40, and passengers who have undergone surgery.  A study conducted by medical researchers in New Zealand reveals as many as one in 100 passengers are likely to develop blood clots on long-haul flights.

In Husain, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Article 17 of the Warsaw Act, which governs international travel and holds airlines liable for damages in cases involving bodily injuries, an “accident” is not limited to the “injury producing event” but can involve any link in the causal chain that is unusual or unexpected.  It rejected the reasoning behind recent United Kingdom and Australian DVT court rulings that an injury resulting from an “inaction” cannot be an “accident” under the Warsaw Convention. 

The flight attendant’s refusal to help a passenger avoid a medical crisis constituted an “accident.”  Her unusual and unexpected refusal to move the passenger, who had asthma, away from the smoking section was a link in the causal chain of events that led to the passenger’s death.

Robbins says that airline carrier’s conduct in DVT cases is even more unusual or unexpected than the “accident’ referred to in Husain.  “Their failure to provide timely and adequate warnings of DVT’s risks prior to a flight and give passengers the opportunity to take preventative measures is the causal link in these claims,” says Robbins.  “The airline carrier’s inexcusable inaction for so long is a disgrace.  But now, because of the Supreme Court ruling, we believe U.S. and international victims and their families will finally be compensated for their terrible losses.”

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