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Husain v. Olympic Airways

Plaintiffs brought a wrongful death action against Olympic Airways under the liability provisions of the Warsaw Convention for the death of Dr. Abid Hanson, a passenger on one of Olympic's flights who suffered from asthma and was particularly sensitive to secondhand smoke.  Dr. Hanson went into respiratory distress and died while the aircraft was in flight.  The court held that smoke ingestion played “a significant causal role” in Dr. Hanson’s death.  The court found the airline liable for Dr. Hanson’s death because the flight attendant did not follow company policy and deviated from the accepted industry standard of care when she failed to adequately respond to requests by Dr. Hanson’s wife to move him to a seat further away from the smoking section.  Her actions qualified as an “accident” under the Convention (defined as “an unexpected or usual event”), and the accident was a proximate cause of Dr. Hanson’s death.  In addition, because the flight attendant’s actions amounted to “willful misconduct,” the cap on damages under the Convention did not apply.  Dr. Hanson was found to be 50 percent contributorily negligent in causing his death by failing to move independently to another area of the plane and, as a result, the reward was reduced by 50 percent to a total of $700,000. The court declined to hold the airline liable with respect to plaintiffs’ claims about the flight crew’s delay in effectively providing oxygen to Dr. Hanson or the crew’s failure to turn on the “no smoking” sign during the flight.