Doe v. Etihad Airways, P.J.S.C., No. 16-1042 (6th Cir. 2017)
The Montreal Convention creates, among other things, uniformity in the legal treatment of international carriage of passengers, including passenger compensation following accidents that occur during international flights.
Article 17(1) imposes strict liability on air carriers in the case of bodily injury or death:
The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking
The Montreal Convention and its predecessor, the Warsaw Convention, have historically been applied by courts such that passengers could not recover for mental distress unless that mental distress resulted from a bodily injury sustained in an airplane accident. In other words, a causal connection between the bodily injury and mental distress was necessary. Recently, the United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit in Doe v Etihad Airways ("Doe") applied a different interpretation such that no causal connection was required.
In Doe, the plaintiff was onboard an international flight destined for Chicago. During the flight, the tray table remained in the open position and could not be closed as one of its knobs had fallen off. The knob was placed by the plaintiff into the seat pocket in front of her. During descent, a flight attendant instructed the plaintiff to put her tray in the upwards position. In attempting to explain the problem with the tray table, the plaintiff reached into the seat pocket to show the knob. When she did so, she pricked her finger on a used hypodermic needle apparently left in the seat pocket from a previous flight. As a result of the needle prick, the plaintiff sued the air carrier for physical injury (the pin prick) and mental distress arising from a fear that she may have contracted some kind of disease....