Certified Translation for International Travel Litigation

Caribbean Traveler Sues After In-Flight Injury

With the number of Americans mysteriously dying while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, the issues related to international vacation and travel litigation become even more relevant. There is also an increased need for certified document translation services for international pretrial discovery and for filing international personal injury cases. We’ve blogged before about injuries passengers have sustained while traveling internationally and the role of the Montreal Convention in addressing air travel disputes. The case discussed below, Powell v. Liat, involves a lawsuit brought by a resident of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (plaintiff), against Korean Air for injuries she sustained while on board the airline.

Factual Background

On August 6, 2016, the plaintiff planned to travel from St. Thomas to Trinidad on the defendant airline, which was incorporated under the laws of Antigua and Barbuda. Her flight included a layover in Antigua before arriving in Trinidad. However, the plaintiff’s departing flight was delayed, causing her to miss her connecting flight from Antigua to Trinidad.

The defendant airline booked the plaintiff on the next available flight to Trinidad. However, the plaintiff, who was diabetic, expressed concern about the scheduled arrival time in Trinidad, stating that she needed to arrive in Trinidad by a certain time in order to eat food and take some medication. The defendant airline offered to pay for the plaintiff to stay overnight in Antigua and fly to Trinidad the next day, but the plaintiff refused this offer. Instead, the plaintiff boarded the flight despite her concerns with the flight’s arrival time.

Once on board the flight, the plaintiff informed the flight attendant that she did not feel well and that she was diabetic. The plaintiff requested food with which to take her medication but was informed that there was no food available on the flight per policy. Thereafter, the plaintiff lost consciousness and struck her head on the seat of the plane.

Plaintiff Files Personal Injury Lawsuit; Airline Moves for Summary Judgment

On May 17, 2017, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant airline in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands for the personal injuries she allegedly sustained on the flight. The defendant airline removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. Once in federal court, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment seeking the dismissal of all of the plaintiff’s claims.

In deciding the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the district court determined that the Montreal Convention applied to the dispute. The Montreal Convention is an international treaty which sets forth uniform rules for claims arising out of incidents involving international air transportation. In making this determination, the court cited Blake v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 245 F.3d 1213, 1215 (11th Cir. 2001), which held that a round-trip flight from Jamaica with an agreed stopping place in another State qualified as international transportation because Jamaica was party to the Montreal Convention.

Court Analyzes Claims Under Montreal Convention

The court first explained that in order to have a valid claim for relief under the Montreal Convention, the plaintiff must prove the following: (1) that there had been an accident (2) that the accident caused the passenger’s injuries; and (3) that the accident occurred while on board the aircraft or in the course of embarking or disembarking the aircraft. See E. Airlines v. Floyd, 499 U.S. 530, 535-36 (1991).
In its motion for summary judgment, the defendant airline argued that the plaintiff had failed to allege sufficient facts establishing that an “accident” occurred while the plaintiff was a passenger on the defendant’s airline.

In analyzing the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the court noted that the Montreal Convention does not define the term “accident.” However, the district court cited Air France v. Saks, 470 U.S. 392, 394-95 (1985) in which the United States Supreme Court held that in order for liability to attach, a passenger’s injury must be “caused by an unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger.” Applying this standard, the district found that it was difficult to find that the defendant airline’s communication with the plaintiff pre-flight or its inability to provide food during the flight was in any way “unexpected” or “unusual.” The court reasoned that the plaintiff had refused a meal as well as the overnight accommodations that had been offered to her at the airline’s expense.

The court also relied on the case of Nguyen v. Korean Air Lines Co., 807 F.3d 133 (5th Cir. 2015), in which the plaintiff sued Korean Air for injuries she sustained after a flight from Vietnam to Texas. In Nguyen, the plaintiff had arranged for the airline to provide her with wheelchair service upon arriving in Texas. Prior to landing, the flight attendants made an announcement in Korean and English regarding the airline’s wheelchair policy and advised those passengers needing a wheelchair to depart the plane last. The plaintiff, who spoke only Vietnamese, departed the plane and walked past a row of wheelchairs without ever asking to use one. The plaintiff was seriously injured shortly thereafter when she fell down an escalator at the airport.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. On appeal, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that there was no evidence that the airline ever departed from its internal policies and procedures or that it departed from industry standards in allowing the plaintiff to deplane without use of a wheelchair.

Based on the Nguyen case and other similar cases, the court held that the defendant had met its burden of establishing that it was entitled to summary judgment as it had demonstrated that there was no “accident” within the meaning of the Montreal Convention.

Certified Translation of Legal Document for International Travel Litigation

All Language Alliance, Inc. in the expert in legal translation services for international travel litigation with extensive experience in supplying certified translation of legal documents from English to Spanish, Korean, Chinese, German, French, Portuguese, and other languages, and from any foreign language to English, and in providing deposition interpreters in all foreign languages for international tourism, vacation, holiday and travel litigation cases and discovery.

The case is Leonise Greig-Powell v. Liat, Case No. 2017-42, decided on April 30th, 2019 in the District Court for the Virgin Islands Division of St. Thomas and St. John.

***This legal translations blog should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult a lawyer regarding your specific legal needs.***

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