A guide to the Dawson vs. Thomson Airways Ltd case

Case facts

Appellant: Thomson Airways Ltd

Thomson Airways (now known as ‘TUI’) is the third-largest flight operator in the UK, carrying over ten million passengers a year.

Thomson Airways was represented in court by Robert Lawson QC of Quadrant Chambers.

  • Flight Number: BY 5143
  • Route: London Gatwick (UK) – Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic)
  • Scheduled flight distance / duration: 6,950km (10hr 5min)
  • Scheduled departure date / time: 25 December 2006 (11:30 AM)

Respondent: Mr. Dawson

Mr Dawson was delayed for more than six hours in December 2006 when travelling from London Gatwick to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic on Thomson Airways flight BY 5143.
Mr. Dawson initially represented himself in the Small Claims Court before enlisting the support of a UK law firm to defend against the airline’s subsequent appeal.

Courts:

  • Cambridge Small Claims Court, Cambridge (15 July 2013)
  • Court of Appeal, London (19 June 2014)
  • Supreme Court, London (31 October 2014)

 

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What happened?

Flight delay circumstances

Mr. Dawson’s flight to the Dominican Republic was due to depart London Gatwick at 11.30 AM on Christmas Day 2006, but was several hours late leaving because of staff shortages – It had transpired that several cabin crew members stationed on the Caribbean island had contracted a gastric virus and were therefore unable to work on-board the flight.

The pilot was unable gain back time during the flight and it arrived at Puerto Plata Gregorio Luperón Airport six hours and twenty-six minutes behind schedule.

Legal action

On 23 December 2012, Mr. Dawson began legal proceedings in a quest to retrieve €600 compensation after Thomson Airways rejected his initial claim on the grounds that the widespread illness constituted ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

Cambridge Small Claims Court

Mr. Dawson represented himself at the initial hearing at Cambridge Small Claims Court in December 2016, with Thomson Airways enlisting the support of Robert Lawson QC of Quadrant Chambers.

Having originally rejected the passenger’s compensation claim by citing ‘extraordinary circumstances’, Thomson abandoned that defence in court, instead choosing to argue that despite having a valid claim, Mr. Dawson failed to initiate court proceedings within the time period stipulated by the Montreal Convention of 1999 and was therefore not eligible for compensation. The airline requested that the court apply the Convention’s two-year limit and dismiss the passenger’s claim on that basis.

The Small Claims Court deemed the case to be too complex to provide judgement on straightaway and subsequently allocated it to the court’s multi-track system.

The case was eventually heard by His Honour Judge Yelton on 15 July 2013. When passing judgement, he commented: “The issue in this case can be simply stated. It is whether the limitation period for a claim of this nature is (a) two years, as provided by the Montreal Convention of 1999 or (b) six years, as provided by S9 of the Limitation Act 1980. If it is for two years the claim fails, if it is six years the claim succeeds.”

The court decided that Article 7 of EU Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 was not subject to the limitations of the Montreal Convention because, unlike EU regulations, the Convention guidelines were designed to cover compensation claims made in relation to other passenger damages such as injury and baggage loss (not flight delays). In addition to this, it was the court’s belief that the time restrictions imposed on claims are a matter of national law – the UK Limitation Act 1980 applies a six-year limit on claims which must be adhered to in all UK cases.

Fortunately for Mr. Dawson, he had initiated legal proceedings two days before the six-year claim window was set to expire, thus allowing Judge Yelton to rule in his favour.

Given the significance of his decision, Yelton deemed it appropriate to give Thomson Airways the opportunity to appeal.

Court of Appeal

Thomson decided to appeal against the verdict at a hearing on 13 May 2014. However, it was rejected, and on 19 June 2014 the court upheld Judge Yelton’s decision.

Lord Justice Moore-Brick said: “we are bound to follow and apply the decisions of the European Court in relation to the nature of the claim for compensation under article 7 and its compatibility with the Montreal Convention. That includes the Court's ruling that the obligation in question lies outside the scope of the Convention.”

Although the three judges handing down this decision accepted the criticisms of the verdict, the felt justified in their application of the law, Lord Justice Moor-Brick stating that; “limitation periods applicable to claims under Article 19 of the Convention and claims under Article 7 of Regulation 261 will frequently differ. However, none of them seem to me to provide a sufficient justification for applying the Convention time bar to a claim of this kind.”

Supreme Court

Despite losing out at the Court of Appeal, Thomson and its representatives decided to appeal to the Supreme Court to get the decision overturned. The airline’s submission was considered on paper by the Supreme Court, and on 31 October 2014 the permission to appeal was denied. This meant that passengers in England and Wales would therefore have six years to bring their claims to court.

Mr. Dawson was awarded €600 compensation.

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Case significance

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dawson vs. Thomson Airways case was a landmark decision in that it has subsequently required all English and Welsh courts to give passengers six years in which to claim for flight disruption (not two years, as implied by the Montreal Convention).

The difference between a claim period of two and six years is particularly significant when you look at flight delay statistics:

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures indicate that around 220 million passengers pass through UK airports each year. When considering the European Commission data that suggests 1.5% of UK departures and arrivals are delayed by three hours or more each year, it appears that there is the potential for more than three million passengers to claim compensation in any given year – going by this estimate, the Dawson v. Thomson Airways ruling has (in theory) paved the way for an extra 12 million passenger claims (once ‘extraordinary circumstances’ cases have been accounted for).

The average compensation amount is €430 – this means that, when combined, UK passengers could potentially unlock around £3.7 billion in otherwise non-claimable compensation as a result of the Supreme Court’s verdict.

You could win compensation too…

If you have been denied boarding or had your flight cancelled or delayed by more than 3 hours in the last six years, you could be eligible for as much as £540 in compensation.

Our expert team at Flight Delay Claims 4 U are experienced in handling UK flight compensation claims and are especially adept at interpreting EU legislation in order to strengthen your case. If your flight delay or cancellation took place between two and six years ago, we can work with our legal partners to ensure that the precedent of Dawson vs. Thomson Airways Ltd. is applied in relation to the time limitations imposed on claims.

All claims made through Flight Delay Claims 4 U are 100% risk-free – our ‘no win, no fee’ policy means that no initial fee is incurred and you won’t be charged if your claim is unsuccessful.
Contact our team today to avoid missing out on your chance to claim between £220 and £540 in compensation.