Passenger wins landmark flight case

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An airline passenger has won a landmark Court of Appeal battle over compensation for flight delays.

Three judges in London rejected a challenge by Thomson Airways against a county court decision to award James Dawson £1,488.73.

After the ruling by Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lord Justice Fulford, flight delay specialist lawyers said they estimated that today's decision "affects over 11 million passengers and is worth in excess of £4 billion to consumers".

Mr Dawson's solicitors, Bott & Co, based in Wilmslow, Cheshire, said the judgment meant that consumers had six years to bring a flight delay claim in England and Wales - the airline argued the time limit was two years.

In a statement the firm said it had "hundreds of litigated cases which have been stayed pending the outcome of the Dawson case, and thousands more ready to issue proceedings".

The claim by Mr Dawson, from Peterborough, was brought over a delay to a flight from Gatwick to the Dominican Republic in December 2006.

Departure was delayed by crew shortages caused by sickness and the flight eventually arrived at its destination more than six hours late.

Mr Dawson sought to recover 600 euro per person from the airline, which is payable as compensation for a flight of that length under EC regulations.

The legal battle over compensation centred on whether such a claim had to be brought within a two-year limit or a six-year limit - Mr Dawson began proceedings in December 2012, just before a six-year limitation period.

Thomson accepted it would have been liable to make the payment if Mr Dawson had brought proceedings in time, but argued that the claim was "out of time", and had been discharged by virtue of the two-year limitation period contained in the Montreal Convention, which governs the liability of carriers by air.

Rejecting Thomson's appeal, Lord Justice Moore-Bick said: "Although the amount involved is small, the principles to which it gives rise are of considerable importance to airlines and passengers alike."

He said that was why the judge in the Cambridge County Court who ruled in Mr Dawson's favour gave the airline permission to appeal "and directed that the appeal should be heard by this court".

Giving the court's reasons for the decision, Lord Justice Moore-Bick said that none of the criticisms raised about the legal regime constituted by previous legal rulings "seem to me to provide a sufficient justification for applying the Convention time bar to a claim of this kind".

Today's victory by 41-year-old Mr Dawson followed another Court of Appeal ruling last week in favour of a passenger over a flight delay.

Ronald Huzar, whose flight arrived 27 hours late, won a compensation fight with an airline which said the delay was caused by "extraordinary circumstances".

Mr Huzar said he was entitled to compensation under European Union regulations after suffering "no little inconvenience" when the flight from Malaga, Spain, to Manchester left a day late in October 2011.

But Jet2.com bosses claimed an exemption. They said the problem which caused the delay - a technical fault on an airliner - was unforeseeable and amounted to an "extraordinary circumstance".

However, appeal judges, who described the case as being "of some importance to the airline passenger industry", ruled in Mr Huzar's favour after concluding that the "extraordinary circumstances defence" did not apply in his case.

One appeal judge listed terrorism, strikes, air traffic control problems and freak weather as events beyond the control of airlines.

David Bott, senior partner at Bott & Co, which also represented Mr Huzar, said after the latest ruling:
"This has been a great week for air passengers' rights and we are delighted to have been involved in two huge victories for consumers.

"It has been superb to take these two issues to the Court of Appeal and clarify regulations that fundamentally affect hundreds of thousands of people on a yearly basis."

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