Deep vein thrombosis and air travel group litigation (2005)

The House of Lords has ruled that passengers who have suffered deep vein thrombosis ( D.V.T.) on a normal international flight had not suffered an “accident” under the Warsaw Convention on International Carriage by Air 1929 Art.17.


The claim could not succeed against the airline because an accident, for the purposes of Art.17, requires an unexpected or unusual event or happening that was external to the passengers. The passengers had argued the airline had complete control over the conditions which had caused their injury, namely the cramped seating arrangements in the aircraft.


HELD: For Art.17 liability, the occurrence had to have the characteristics of an “accident”. i.e. more than the normal operation of the aircraft in normal conditions and, second, that the event or happening that had caused the damage of which complaint was made had to be something external to the passenger.

Precautions that might be taken to guard against that danger did not improve the case, at least where there was no established practice of airlines generally or of a defendant airline in particular to issue such warnings. The agreed facts did not cover the case where there was an established practice and the usual warning was not given.

HL (Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Steyn, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord Mance) 8 December 2005.

Workplace tripping claim

The claimant, Ms Burgess, was an after-school cleaner. At the end of a school day she had been cleaning a classroom when she fell over a plastic container on the floor. The box was bright blue and large and there to be seen.

The container was used to store pupils’ lunch-boxes during the day. There was a system in place at the school whereby the containers were stowed away by others at the end of the day once the pupils had retrieved their lunch-boxes and left.

The defendant argued that the nature of Ms Burgess's job as a cleaner, in essence, required her to ensure compliance with reg.12(3), and that, as part of her job had been to tidy up, it had been her task to remove the container from the traffic route.

HELD: The fact that Ms Burgess was employed to tidy away was not determinative of whether there was a breach of reg.12(3).

What had been determinative was that there was a surface of a traffic route in a workplace that had not been kept free of an article which might cause a person to fall. 

There was a system in place at the school whereby the containers were stowed away at

the end of the day to a safe area. That system had not been complied with on the day of the accident with the result that the container, which was an article capable of causing someone to trip or fall, was left in the traffic route.

It was reasonably practicable to have stowed the container elsewhere and the failure to do so amounted to a breach of reg.12(3). Had the system that was in place been followed, the accident would not have occurred.

50 per cent contributory negligence against the cleaner.

Rita Burgess -v- Plymouth City Council (2005). CA (Civ Div) (Sir Anthony Clarke MR, Smith LJ, Maurice Kay LJ) 30 November 2005.