Ali Yalcinkaya November 2 2022 No multiple exhaustion of maximum liability limit in case of loss of shared luggage of more than one traveller Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein | Aviation - Germany Ali Yalcinkaya Aviation FactsNürtingen Local CourtStuttgart Regional CourtCommentOn 15 September 2022, the Regional Court of Stuttgart decided that air carriers are only liable for lost baggage to the maximum limit of special drawing rights, regardless of how many passengers' items the lost baggage contained.(1)FactsThe plaintiff and a co-traveller booked a flight from Stuttgart, Germany, via Istanbul, Turkey, to Hurghada, Egypt. The two travellers handed over their luggage – two suitcases – to the defendant for transport. One of the two suitcases was lost on the flights.At the first-instance Nürtingen Local Court,(2) the plaintiff claimed compensation from the defendant as the responsible air carrier under the Montreal Convention (MC).(3) The claimant claimed for herself and assigned rights from her co-traveller.Nürtingen Local CourtThe Court granted the claim in view of the wording of article 22(2) of the MC, according to which the air carrier is liable in the event of baggage loss up to an amount of 1,288 special drawing rights "per passenger". Since the lost baggage contained the belongings of two passengers, the maximum liability limit was exhausted up to two times. Thus, the loss was not limited to the amount of 1,288 special drawing rights under article 22(2) of the MC.The defendant appealed the decision as the amount awarded was above the maximum liability limit of article 22(2) of the MC and the two suitcases had been registered by two travellers (ie, one each). The defendant argued that the loss was not insurable, since several persons were transporting items in one suitcase and therefore the value of its contents exceeded the amount of 1,288 special drawing rights. Further, it is contrary to the meaning and purpose of the liability limits of the MC if the liability limits can be exhausted as often as desired, if the property of several travellers are transported in one suitcase. In this respect, damages could not be insurable, since there would be no control over the amount of persons transporting goods in one piece of luggage and air carriers could face unpredictable claims. The maximum liability under the MC would thus miss the mark.Stuttgart Regional Court In the appeal, the Stuttgart Regional Court amended the original judgment contrary to the case law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).(4) According to the Stuttgart Regional Court, a multiple exhaustion of the maximum liability of 1,228 special drawing rights was not applicable in case of the loss of shared luggage.Article 22(2) of the MC states that in the event of loss of luggage, the special drawing rights per traveller shall be determined. However, according to the Court, this provision intended to replace the reference to the weight of the luggage set in the Warsaw Convention.(5) Therefore, the applicability of the liability limits refers to reimbursement of a piece of luggage and not to the amount of people who had their belongings in the lost luggage. In this respect, the maximum limit of the special drawing rights per piece of luggage could only be applied once.CommentThe decision of the Stuttgart Regional Court is particularly welcome with regard to the fair balance of interests. A repeated exhaustion of the maximum liability limit would certainly represent a considerable impairment of the economic activity of air carriers, since they would be burdened with an excessive compensation liability, which would be difficult to determine and calculate in practice. The maximum liability ensures that passengers are compensated comparatively quickly and easily,(6) which ultimately also benefits the airlines, which usually avoid difficult individual case calculations and can thus better calculate and insure their liability risks. Nevertheless, this should also not be detrimental to consumer interests, because the consumer is protected by the submission of a declaration of value when handing in baggage. According to article 22(2)(2) of the MC, the carrier is liable up to the agreed amount, unless the carrier can prove that the claimant suffered a lower loss.The historical interpretation of this standard also indicates that the maximum liability limit was intended per baggage and not per passenger. Article 22(2) and (3) of the Warsaw Convention – the predecessor of article 22 of the MC – provided for a maximum liability limit per kilogram, provided that no declaration of value had been made. The reference to the weight of checked baggage shows that the liability limit was intended to apply per baggage and not per passenger. Nevertheless, many courts today interpret this provision in favour of consumers and against airlines only according to the wording of the article. The Stuttgart Regional Court dealt not only with the wording, but also with the meaning, purpose and history of article 22(2) of the MC and thus the decision aligns with the interests of both parties – the traveller and the airline.For further information on this topic please contact Ali Yalcinkaya at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0) or email ([email protected]). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website can be accessed at www.asd-law.com.Endnotes(1) Stuttgart District Court, 15 September 2022, 5 S 7/22.(2) Local Court Nürtingen, 23 December 2021, 14 C 1423/21.(3) Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air.(4) ECJ, 22 November 2012, Pedro Espada Sánchez u.a./Iberia Líneas Aéreas de Espana SA, C‑410/11.(5) Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules relating to International Carriage by Air.(6) ECJ, 6 May 2010, Axel Walz v Clickair, SA, C‑63/09.