Silverman v Ryanair. The High Court unconvincingly on the Montreal Convention, lex fori as lex causae for the interpretation of ius gentium, qualifying air carriage claims under Rome I, II, and displacing lex loci damni under the latter.

In Silverman v Ryanair DAC (Rev1) [2021] EWHC 2955 (QB), claimant was injured whilst going down stairs at an airport terminal in England. The claim is subject to EU private international law. Jurisdiction for the English courts in this personal injury claim is not disputed.

Under A5 Rome I, contracts for carriage of goods are subject to the ordinary lex voluntatis rule, while for carriage of passengers, parties can only choose from a limited selection of leges contractus. The standard approach is for  general terms and conditions to select the law of the carrier’s habitual residence or his place of central administration, which is entirely kosher under Rome I. Unless the booking qualifies as package travel, it essentially means that passengers are generally less protected than ordinary consumers under A6 Rome I.

In the case of Ryanair, the default choice inevitably leads to Irish law, except in this case (because Irish law would lead to higher damages), the airline unusually seeks to divert from its default choice of law.  The airline’s relevant clause, reads

8.2.4: Governing Law: “Except as otherwise provided by the Convention or applicable law, your contract of carriage with us, these Terms and Conditions of Carriage and our Regulations shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Ireland and any dispute arising out of or in connection with this contract shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the Irish Courts.”

The Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air 1999 is unaffected by Rome I as a result of the Regulation’s A25, which gives clear priority to multilateral Conventions at least if the Convention concerned also includes non-EU Member States. The Convention also operates to make the choice of court provision invalid, as discussed ia in CJEU  C-213/18 Adriano Guaitoli et al v Easyjet.

Claimant however argues that assessment of quantum of damages is not regulated by Montreal and therefore remains subject to the lex voluntatis. This is where the second line of Ryanair’s defence comes in, namely an attempt to qualify the claim as one in tort, subject to Rome II’s lex loci damni rule, rather than Rome I’s lex voluntatis.

In essence therefore the question is a matter of Treaty interpretation viz the Montreal Convention (what does it mean to regulate in its provisions on liability and damages), subsequently secondary EU law interpretation viz Rome I and II (qualification: is it a claim in contract or tort, and once that held, does the lex casuae indicated by the relevant Regulation, cover quantum of damages).

Master McCloud turns to international comparison not by way of binding authority but pro inspiratio seeing as the case concerns an international Convention [52]. Scalia J’s ‘Pass-through’ approach to the lex fori’s choice-of-law rules in Zicherman (1996) is the approach also followed in this judgment. The judge uses the formulation by Bader Ginsburg J in El Al Israelthat Warsaw drafters intended to resolve whether there is liability, but to leave to domestic law (the local law identified by the forum under its choice-of-law rules or approaches) determination of the compensatory damages available to the suitor.”

Comparative case-law analysis makes sense. However one would have thought a starting point should have been analysis of the Convention and its travaux itself. Master McCloud does get to that when considering the rather awkward , counsel-inspired idea that there needs to be a discussion of the law that applies to the interpretation of the Convention. Determining the ‘Applicable law to matters of interpretation of the Convention’ might perhaps make sense in a dualist jurisdiction like the UK?

At [59] the judge holds the lex causae for interpretation of the Convention is the lex fori, English law therefore. At [61] he calls this

Convention law as understood by this court, ie the lex fori in that rather special international sense.’

Here I am lost.

The judge then employs the ‘natural language’ approach to determine what parts of the Montreal liability scheme parties can and cannot contractually be negotiated away.

Only the liability issues that have ‘passed through’ to the lex fori are then considered with a view to determining the qualification exercise: is the claim one in contract or one on tort. The judge raises the possibility that the claimant could have construed the claim as being a ‘Convention claim incorporated in the contract’ [64] however he holds that claim is not brought on that footing:

‘the Claim and Particulars are clear: they plead a claim for damages for breach of the Convention, they do not plead a claim in the law of contract’ [64].

That, I would submit, is wrong. The claim is subject to European conflict of laws rules. These require the judge to qualify the claim subject to the autonomous interpretation of ‘contract’ and ‘non-contractual obligation’ as most recently discussed by the CJEU in Wikingerhof. While I am the first to acknowledge claim formulation is a powerful tool to manage qualification (indeed Wikingerhof confirms as much), I do not think deference to claimant may be as large as suggested here.

The judge proceeds with the non-contractual nature (causing injury to the claimant through negligence [65]), points out that the Convention covers both contractual and non-contractual claims [66] and seeks support in his analysis on tort and contract in Prof. Thomas Kadner Graziano’s 2016 paper in the Yearbook of Private International Law. With respect, I do not think Thomas’ paper supports the conclusions in this case.

At [72][73] the judge then rather summarily and using A4(3) Rome II displaces the lex loci damni for the ‘passed through’ claim, in favour of Irish law, the lex contractus to the contract of carriage. Once the Rome II path chosen (of which, per above, I am not convinced), I do not think the lex loci damni may be pushed aside quite as concisely as this.

The relationship between international Conventions and European conflicts rules is not always straightforward. Yet here I think it has been presented a touch too convolutedly.

Geert.

Air transport. The CJEU in Adriano Guaitoli v Easyjet. The not always clear delineation between the jurisdictional rules of the Brussels and Montreal regimes.

C-213/18 Adriano Guaitoli et al v Easyjet concerns the clearly complex relationship between the Brussels Ia jurisdictional regime, the 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, and the EU’s flight compensation Regulation 261/2004.

Montreal Article 33 determines which court has jurisdiction to hear an action for damages against an air carrier falling within the scope of that instrument. The reference has been made in the context of a cross-border dispute between an airline and a number of passengers, in relation to sums claimed by those passengers both by way of standardised compensation under Regulation 261/2004 and by way of individualised compensation for damage caused to them by the cancellation of an outward and a return flight, both operated by that airline.

Saugmandsgaard ØE had advised that the two instruments should be applied distributively, according to the nature of the relevant head of claim. The Court has followed: the court of a Member State hearing an action seeking to obtain both compliance with the flat-rate and standardised rights provided for in Regulation No 261/2004, and compensation for further damage falling within the scope of the Montreal Convention, must assess its jurisdiction, on the first head of claim, in the light of Article 7(1) BIa and, on the second head of claim, having regard to Article 33 Montreal.

This is also the result of Articles 67 and Article 71(1) BIa which allow the application of rules of jurisdiction relating to specific matters which are contained respectively in Union acts or in conventions to which the Member States are parties. Since air transport is such a specific matter, the rules of jurisdiction provided for by the Montreal Convention must be applicable within the regulatory framework laid down by it.

Note that per Article 17(3) BIa the consumer section ‘shall not apply to a contract of transport other than a contract which, for an inclusive price, provides for a combination of travel and accommodation’ (see also C‑464/18 Ryanair). The rule of special jurisdiction for the supply of services, A7(1)(b) BIa, designates as the court having jurisdiction to deal with a claim for compensation based on air transport contract of persons, at the applicant’s choice, that court which has territorial jurisdiction over the place of departure or place of arrival of the aircraft, as those places are agreed in that transport contract; see also C-88/17 Zurich Insurance.

The Court further held that Article 33 Montreal, like A7BIa, leads to the direct appointment of the territorially competent court within a Montreal State: it does not just just identify a State with jurisdiction as such.

The combined application of these rules inevitable means that unless claimants are happy to sue in Mozaik fashion, consolidation of the case will most likely take place in the domicile of the airline. In the Venn diagram of options, that is in most cases the only likely overlap.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.11.1.

Prüller-Frey: The CJEU on Direct action provided for by national law against the civil-liability insurer

Case-law on Rome II (the law applicable to non-contractual obligations) is only slowly picking up so almost anything coming out of the CJEU is met with excitement. Like Ergo Insurance (so far only the AG’s Opinion), C-240/14 Prüller-Frey concerns insurance contracts. In this case, direct action against an insurer, by the victim of an air traffic accident.

The victim sues in Austria, on the basis of Article 6 or, alternatively, 11 of the Brussels I Regulation (old: Regulation 44/2001). Applicability or not of the Montreal Convention (for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air) and the EU’s implementation of same, is less relevant for this posting. At stake was mostly Article 18 of the Rome II Regulation, which reads

The person having suffered damage may bring his or her claim directly against the insurer of the person liable to provide compensation if the law applicable to the non-contractual obligation or the law applicable to the insurance contract so provides.

The lex contractus is German law. This was so chosen by the insured, Norbert Brodnig, and the insurance company, Axa Versicherung AG. German law does not provide for such direct action. But Spanish law, the lex locus damni (which applies between Prüller-Frey and Brodnig), does. The insurance company calls upon the absence of the action in German law, to reject Prüller-Frey’s action. Szpunar AG and the CJEU itself simply point to the clear language of Article 18: this is not a conflict of laws rule that determines the law applicable between victim and insurer: the insurance company’s obligations will continue to be subject to the lex contractus. Article 18 is simply an alternative connecting factor for the very possibility of direct action against the insurer. Spanish law is the law applicable to the non-contractual obligation and if Spanish law allows for such direct action, then that is enough for there to be one.

Geert.

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