Olympic Airways v. Husain, 540 U.S. 644 (2004)

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OLYMPIC AIRWAYS v. HUSAIN, individually, and as personal representative of the ESTATE OF HANSON, DECEASED, et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 02-1348. Argued November 12, 2003—Decided February 24, 2004

Under Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention (Convention), an air carrier is liable for a passenger's death or bodily injury caused by an "accident" occurring on an international flight. "Accident" refers to an "unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger," not to "the passenger's own internal reaction to the usual, normal, and expected operation of the aircraft." Air France v. Saks, 470 U. S. 392, 405, 406. While Rubina Husain (hereinafter respondent) and her husband, Dr. Hanson, were traveling overseas, she requested that petitioner Olympic Airways provide seats away from the smoking section because Dr. Hanson had asthma and was sensitive to secondhand smoke. After boarding, they discovered that their seats were only three rows in front of the smoking section. A flight attendant refused respondent's three requests to move Dr. Hanson. As the smoking noticeably increased, Dr. Hanson walked toward the front of the plane to get fresher air. He then received medical assistance but died. Respondents filed a wrongful-death suit in state court, which was removed to federal court. The District Court found petitioner liable for Dr. Hanson's death, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that, under Saks' definition of "accident," the flight attendant's refusal to reseat Dr. Hanson was clearly external to him, and unexpected and unusual in light of industry standards, Olympic policy, and the simple nature of the requested accommodation.

Held: The conduct here constitutes an "accident" under Article 17.

Pp. 649-657. (a) The parties do not dispute Saks' definition of "accident," but they disagree about which event should be the focus of the "accident" inquiry. The Court's reasoning in Saks sheds light on whether the flight attendant's refusal to assist a passenger in a medical crisis is the proper focus of the "accident" inquiry. In Saks, the Court focused on "what causes can be considered accidents," 470 U. S., at 404, and did not suggest that only one event could be the "accident." Indeed, the Court recognized that "[a]ny injury is the product of a chain of causes." Id., at 406. Thus, for purposes of the "accident" inquiry, a plaintiff need only prove

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