Airlines liable for spilt coffee, top EU court rules

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Passengers scalded by hot drinks during a flight can hold the airline liable for damages, the top EU court ruled on Thursday.

The ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) resulted from a case brought by a young girl seeking compensation from now insolvent Austrian airline Niki Luftfahrt when coffee served to her father tipped over during a flight.

The airline had contended that it was not liable since the incident was not covered by the Montreal Convention, which governs compensation for the victims of air disasters, for delays and damage or loss of luggage.

The airline said it should only be liable for accidents involving hazards associated with flight, which was not the case here. It was not clear if the cup tipped due to a defect in the tray or because of the vibration of the aircraft.

The convention does not define the word “accident”.

The court said on Thursday that the ordinary meaning of “accident” and the Montreal Convention’s aim of balancing the interests of airlines and passengers meant damages should not be restricted to flight-related hazards.

An airline may be exonerated from its liability by proving that a passenger caused or contributed to the damage.

It is now for the Austrian court, where the girl’s case was filed, to use the CJEU ruling to settle the specific dispute between the airline and the passenger.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood