Olympic Airways v. Husain, 540 U.S. 644, 7 (2004)

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Opinion of the Court

The Court nevertheless discerned the meaning of the term "accident" from the Convention's text, structure, and history as well as from the subsequent conduct of the parties to the Convention.

Neither party here contests Saks' definition of the term "accident" under Article 17 of the Convention. Rather, the parties differ as to 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 addressed whether a passenger's " 'loss of hearing proximately caused by normal operation of the aircraft's pressurization system' " was an " 'accident.' " Id., at 395. The Court concluded that it was not, because the injury was her "own internal reaction" to the normal pressurization of the aircraft's cabin. Id., at 406. The Court noted two textual clues to the meaning of the term "accident." First, the Convention distinguishes between liability under Article 17 for death or injuries to passengers caused by an "accident" and liability under Article 18 for destruction or loss of baggage caused by an "occurrence." Id., at 398. The difference in these provisions implies that the meaning of the term "accident" is different from that of "occurrence." Ibid. Second, the Court found significant the fact that Article 17 focuses on the "accident which caused" the passenger's injury and not an accident that is the passenger's injury. Ibid. The Court explained that it is the cause of the injury—rather than the occurrence of the injury—that must satisfy the definition of "accident." Id., at 399. And recognizing the Court's responsibility to read the treaty in a manner "consistent with the shared expectations of the contracting parties," ibid., the Court also looked to the French legal meaning of the term "accident," which when used to describe the cause of an injury, is usually defined as a "fortuitous, unexpected, unusual, or unintended event," id., at 400.

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