Friday, December 13, 2002
Air Carrier Held Liable for Fatal Attack Suffered by Asthma Patient Seated Too Near Smoking Section
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A federal appeals court yesterday upheld a $1.4 million verdict against Greece-based Olympic Airways as compensation for a California man who died from being exposed to smoke on an international flight.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the family of Abid Hanson, who suffered an asthma attack on Flight 417 from Athens, Greece to New York in 1998, was entitled to the award.
Hanson, who had chronic asthma, was seated in the nonsmoking section, but near the smoking section, and repeatedly asked to be moved farther away. The airline refused and he died on the plane.
His family sued and U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco awarded $1.4 million in damages.
Olympic Airways attorney Andrew J. Harakas declined comment and said the airway was reviewing the decision.
The crux of the case was whether Hanson’s death could be considered the result of an “accident” under the Warsaw Convention. Breyer ruled that it was, making the carrier liable for the death.
Breyer, in a decision upheld by the San Francisco-based appeals court, concluded that the accident was attributed to the flight attendant’s misconduct in not moving Hanson to a different seat after he complained.
Olympic claimed that it was not liable because the death resulted not from an accident but from “internal reactions to the usual, normal and expected operation of the aircraft.” The carrier also said cabin smoke was “an expected and normal aspect of international air travel” and that Hanson may have died from food allergies.
The appeals court found that failing to move Hanson “amounts to a dereliction of duty.”
When he and his wife, plaintiff Rubina Husain, discovered before takeoff they were seated three rows behind the smoking section and that there was no barrier that separated the sections, they asked flight attendant Maria Leptourgou to move them.
Leptourgou responded by telling the couple to “have a seat.” When the request was renewed, Leptourgou said she was too busy.
The smoking started soon after takeoff and floated back to where Hanson sat. His breathing problems worsened, and despite the assistance of doctors on the flight he suffered an attack and died.
The case is Husain v. Olympic Airways, 00-17509.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company