James Andrew Bassos, an Australian working in the United Arab Emirates, was flying from Sydney to Dubai in October 2011 when he happened to be seated beside an obese man. Claiming that sitting beside the man caused an accident – a back injury and aggravated an existing back condition, Bassos sued Etihad Airways.
The lawsuit cited Article 17 of the 1999 Montreal Convention saying that an “accident” is defined by the law as an “unusual or unexpected event or events” that is external to the passenger.
Based on the District Court of Queensland’s document, Bassos said he was forced to “twist and contort his body to avoid contact” with the passenger; adding that the man’s body encroached into his seat. The passenger was also said to be coughing and was expelling fluid from his mouth.
After five hours, Bassos requested for a new seat but to no avail.
When he asked 30 minutes later, Bassos was allowed to sit in the crew seat, but was told to return to his seat after an hour. He remained in his cramped position for another hour after being allowed to move to the crew seat again.
He cannot recall how long he was at the crew seat when a cabin member invoked a security procedure and he had to return to his original seat. He remained there for 1 hour and 30 minutes until the plane landed.
Etihad Airways has earlier appealed to strike the case claiming there was no accident involved. The airline also argued that overweight passengers sitting in economy class are not unexpected or unusual. It was also not unexpected and unusual for passengers to have coughs.
However, in a ruling released on July 29, 2015, Judge Fleur Kingham refused the airline’s appeal. Bassos was ordered to undergo medical examination on December 17, 2015.
The airline was ordered to shoulder the travelling cost of Bassos for the medical check-up.