Northern District of California Applies Montreal Convention To Dismiss Claims Against Carrier and Contractor For Purported Failure to Provide Medical Assistance

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Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLPA Northern District of California court dismissed claims against Scandinavian Airlines of North America, Inc. (“SANA”), Scandinavian Airlines System (“SAS”), and MedAire, Inc. (“MedAire”) for injuries a passenger, Michael Meirer, allegedly sustained after suffering an in-flight stroke. Meirer was traveling on an SAS flight from San Francisco to Copenhagen. According to Meirer, SAS opted against diverting to Iceland based on advice received from MedAire, a contractor providing on-board medical advice. Additionally, Plaintiff alleged that SAS failed to arrange to have medical assistance waiting in Copenhagen, and that the delay in treatment purportedly caused permanent damage. Meirer filed suit against SAS and SANA (the entity through which SAS conducts business in the United States) for common carrier strict liability and negligence, and against MedAire for negligence. All three defendants moved to dismiss. SANA argued lack of personal jurisdiction and preemption by the Montreal Convention (the “Convention”), while SAS and MedAire argued only preemption. The court first dismissed the claims against SANA based on lack of personal jurisdiction, before considering the preemption arguments of SAS and MedAire.

The court noted that the Ninth Circuit had not yet addressed whether the Montreal Convention completely preempts state-law claims, but recognized that at a minimum it provides the exclusive remedy for international passengers seeking damages from carriers. The court was uncertain as to what claims were being pled as against SAS. Meirer referenced negligence and strict liability, but also agreed that the Convention applied. Because the Convention provided the exclusive remedy, and to ensure a clean record, the court dismissed the claims against SAS, while granting leave to amend to bring a claim expressly under the Convention.

As to MedAire, the court faced the additional question of whether a non-carrier can avail itself of the Montreal Convention. Although Meirer argued that MedAire was not entitled to protection, the court agreed with MedAire that the Convention applies to both carriers and their “servant[s] or agent[s].” The court noted specific allegations that MedAire had a relationship with SAS to provide medical advice and the two had “acted together and in concert.” These allegations were sufficient to establish agency, thus bringing MedAire within the ambit of the Convention. Thus, the court dismissed the claim against MedAire, while again granting leave to amend, either to bring a claim under the Convention, or else to assert a claim that is clearly outside of the Convention’s scope.

The decision in this case is not unprecedented, and serves to highlight that application of the Montreal Convention is not limited to claims against carriers. Meirer v. Scandinavian Airlines Sys., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8692 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 15, 2021).

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