A passenger on low-cost carrier Ryanair has recently been awarded damages after falling down the aircraft stairs in 2020. A Spanish court has ruled in favor of the woman who was using the handrail while disembarking from the aircraft in Alicante. The court ruled the airline must compensate the passenger €30,793 ($33,073) to cover medical and associated expenses.
When the accident occurred, the woman was flying to Alicante to visit her daughter and newborn grandson. The aircraft arrived from the Andalusian capital of Seville at Alicante–Elche Miguel Hernández Airport (ALC) on February 7th, 2020. As she went to disembark the aircraft, the woman fell and rolled from the second step to the end of the ladder and suffered serious injuries.
She was immediately treated by medical personnel at the airport and taken to the airport's health center. When it became apparent that her injuries exceeded the clinic's capability, she was transferred to the IMED Hospital of Elche and, finally, the Vithas Hospital. It was at Vithas that she underwent two surgeries to repair her tibia and fibula fractures and remained in care for three days.
According to the legal filing, the plane's ladder "was especially narrow and with a large slope." Ryanair has a large fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft with retractable integrated stairs, which increase efficiency and reduce costs by eliminating the need for an airport to provide a jet bridge or mobile stairs.
The passenger tried multiple ways to reclaim the resulting expenses before resorting to legal action. According to the woman’s lawyer, Enrique Osuna, of the Osuna Law Firm, he unsuccessfully addressed the company on "numerous occasions, all attempts to negotiate an extrajudicial solution to the conflict." The resulting court case was made under the ICAO's Montreal Convention of May 28th, 1999, establishing the carrier's liability for bodily injuries to passengers.
The article specifically states in the following quote that the airline is responsible if the incident happens while the claimant is disembarking. "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 Irish airline countered, arguing that the stairs were in perfect working order and that passengers had been given instructions on how to use the stairs before disembarking.
The Commercial Instance Court of Seville took up the case and has now revealed its verdict. One key piece of evidence came from the two crewmembers who gave testimonies for the trial. Both of which testified that the passenger was carrying hand luggage and "descended clinging to the handrail."
Nothing that the court could find proved that the passenger was responsible for the fall either intentionally or by neglect. In a ruling issued on July 31st and seen by Europa Press, the Third Section of the Commercial Court of Seville issued a verdict to the following effect:
"According to the rule, the carrier's responsibility does not depend on the cause, nor on being attributable to his negligence or non-compliance, but on the fact that the damage occurs on board during embarkation or disembarkation, so since it has occurred on disembarkation, the responsibility is attributable to [the carrier]."
Representatives for Ryanair and the operators of Alicante Airport did not respond to requests for comment by press time. The airport has rebounded strongly post-pandemic, serving 1,713,090 passengers in July, up 12.7% from the previous year.
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