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For a carrier to be liable to a passenger for an injury, the passenger must prove the accident caused the injury. Any injury is the product of a chain of causes and the passenger need only prove some link in the chain was an unusual or unexpected event external to the passenger.
Dr. Abid M. Hanson died while a passenger on Olympic Flight 417 between Athens, Greece and New York City. His death occurred after he suffered complications when he was exposed to ambient second-hand smoke while seated in the airplane's non-smoking section three rows in front of the smoking section. Dr. Hanson’s wife, Rubina Husain, had asked Olympic's employees on multiple occasions with increasing urgency to move Dr. Hanson to another seat away from the smoking section. The wife’s requests were ignored by the flight attendant. Dr. Hanson died from a severe asthma attack caused by the smoke exposure. Consequently, plaintiff heirs of Dr. Hanson filed suit against the defendant airline. The airline moved for summary judgment claiming Dr. Hanson's death was not caused by an accident as defined by Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention. The district court denied the motion for summary judgment. After trial, the district court found that the airline’s failure to move Dr. Hanson to a new seat was an accident under Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention and proximately caused his death. The trial court also found that the airline employee’s refusal to help Dr. Hanson constituted willful misconduct under Article 25 of the Warsaw Convention. The district court awarded Plaintiffs $1,400,000, but reduced the award by 50% due to Dr. Hanson's comparative negligence. The airline appealed.
Was the refusal to move the decedent to another seat an accident under Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention, under which, the airline could be held liable?
The Court held that the district court had not clearly erred by finding that the refusal to move the decedent to another seat was an accident under Article 17. According to the Court, the flight attendant violated the recognized standard of care for flight attendants on international flights by refusing to assist; violated the airline's policy; and failed to alert the chief cabin attendant or another flight attendant to help the decedent find another seat. The facts in the record established that the attendant was aware that the decedent was in a desperate situation that required immediate assistance, yet despite this knowledge and increasingly emphatic pleas from his wife, the attendant refused to assist. This amounted to a willful dereliction of duty.