The issue of EC Regulation 261/2004 and passenger claims processes was again highlighted in the recent case of Menditta -v- Ryanair. Graham Wood QC, sitting in Liverpool County Court, held that Ryanair’s policy requiring customers to make claims through the Irish legal system, rather than via claims management companies, was valid; confirming it provided passengers with a less expensive method for claiming compensation. This does not, however, mean that passengers who initially claim from the carrier direct cannot issue claims in the UK courts. We await to see if the claimant, Ms Menditta, will appeal this decision to the Court of Appeal as part of a rare ‘leapfrog’ process.
In further news on EC261, recent press releases confirmed that a claimant law firm renowned for handling EC261 claims admitted misleading a significant number of its clients into believing they had successfully obtained judgment against a carrier. The claims are believed to relate to a 40-hour delay at Manchester airport last year which required police intervention. It is understood that the firm has taken disciplinary action against the fee earner involved and has arranged for the clients affected to be compensated directly.
The airline industry is only too familiar with the tactics employed by claims management companies and claimant law firms within the realms of EC261. Airlines have been affected by the erosion of the defence of extraordinary circumstances through multiple decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union and have been consistently fighting a battle with claimant law firms. Guidance issued by the European Commission on 10 June 2016 (reported by us on 15 June 2016) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority, have sought to make claims arising out of Regulation 261/2004 less complicated (pending completion of the revision of EC261, which has been delayed at EU level for some time). Carriers have, for a significant period of time, had internal resources dedicated to responding to passenger claims and there has been an increase in carrier ADR enrolment. With this in mind, the European Commission had previously released an information notice on 9 March 2017 urging passengers to liaise with carriers direct (please refer to our previous update on this topic. Yet, despite this, passengers are often persuaded to instruct a claims management company or claimant law firm to act on their behalf. For successful claims this means that a percentage of the fixed compensation is reduced by fees.
Whilst Menditta is positive news for the industry, it once again highlights how important the need for reform is. In the interim, carriers should continue to promote the benefits of making claims directly with the airline and highlight the European Commission's information notice corroborating this initiative. In doing so, carriers may attempt to resolve matters efficiently and without the intervention of third party claims management companies and claimant law firms, highlighting the fact that any compensation due will be paid in full to the passenger rather than a significant proportion being lost in needless fees. View the European Commission's information notice.