US legal experts say a recent Supreme Court case on airline passenger liability could lead to a flood of successful deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or "economy class syndrome" cases, but are sceptical that the lawsuits would succeed.

The Supreme Court ruling reworks the concept of an accident, which has traditionally been used solely to apply to an action by an airline or crew. In this case, Olympic Airways flight attendants would not respond to or act on a request to be reseated from a passenger who was severely asthmatic and wished to be moved away from nearby smoking section seats. The passenger walked toward the front of the aircraft, away from the smoking section, but collapsed and died. Olympic cited past rulings that airlines had no legal duty to aid passengers suffering from pre-existing conditions.

The Supreme Court held that the airline's refusal to act on his request led to his death was an act, saying that "the exposure to the smoke and the refusal to assist the passenger are happenings that both contributed to the passenger's death". This is the first time a high court of a nation that is signatory to the Warsaw Convention has defined an accident to include "failure to act".

The case has prompted the speculation that carriers could be held liable for fatal blood clots after long flights, on the grounds that they did not act to help avoid the syndrome. However, Charles Rysavy, a Newark, New Jersey-based defence lawyer in DVT cases, says the cases "have a long way to go because it is unlikely that courts will find that DVT cases meet the very narrow criteria" the high court has set here.

Rysavy says the law is still unsettled when it comes to DVT cases even though all except one DVT case brought in the USA has been thrown out by the courts. That one case, filed in Texas, may end up at the high court.

Source: Airline Business