Olympic Airways v. Husain, 540 U.S. 644, 8 (2004)

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Cite as: 540 U. S. 644 (2004)

Opinion of the Court

Accordingly, the Court held in Saks that an "accident" under Article 17 is "an unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger," and not "the passenger's own internal reaction to the usual, normal, and expected operation of the aircraft." Id., at 405, 406.6 The Court emphasized that the definition of "accident" "should be flexibly applied after assessment of all the circumstances surrounding a passenger's injuries." Id., at 405. The Court further contemplated that intentional conduct could fall within the "accident" definition under Article 17,7 an interpretation that comports with another provision of the Convention.8 As such, Saks correctly characterized the

6 The term "accident" has at least two plausible yet distinct definitions. On the one hand, as noted in Saks, "accident" may be defined as an unintended event. See Webster's New World College Dictionary 8 (4th ed. 1999) ("a happening that is not . . . intended"); see also American Heritage Dictionary 10 (4th ed. 2000) ("[l]ack of intention; chance"); Saks, 470 U. S., at 400. On the other hand, as noted in Saks, the term "accident" may be defined as an event that is "unusual" or "unexpected," whether the result of intentional action or not. Ibid. See Black's Law Dictionary 15 (6th ed. 1990) ("an unusual, fortuitous, unexpected, unforeseen, or unlooked for event, happening or occurrence" and "if happening wholly or partly through human agency, an event which under the circumstances is unusual and unexpected by the person to whom it happens"); see also American Heritage Dictionary, supra, at 10 ("[a]n unexpected and undesirable event," "[a]n unforeseen incident"). Although either definition of "accident" is at first glance plausible, neither party contests the definition adopted by the Court in Saks, which after careful examination discerned the meaning of "accident" under Article 17 of the Convention as an "unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger." 470 U. S., at 405.

7 The Court cited approvingly several lower court opinions where intentional acts by third parties—namely, torts committed by terrorists—were recognized as "accidents" under a "broa[d]" interpretation of Article 17. Ibid. (citing lower court cases).

8 Specifically, Article 25 removes the cap on air carrier liability when the injury is caused by the air carrier's "wilful misconduct." 49 Stat. 3020. Because there can be no liability for passenger death or bodily injury under the Convention in the absence of an Article 17 "accident," such


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