ECJ Advocate General proposes the Court to confirm its "Sturgeon"-Judgement

Michael Wukoschitz's picture

On May 15, 2012, ECJ Advocate General Bot has delivered his opinion in two pending cases where the national courts sought a review of the "Sturgeon"-Judgement. In this judgement, the Court of Justice had ruled that passengers whose flights are delayed may be treated, so far as the right to compensation is concerned, in the same way as passengers whose flights are cancelled. Thus, if they reach their final destination three hours or more after the arrival time as originally scheduled, they may seek flat-rate compensation from the airline, unless the delay has been caused by extraordinary circumstances.

In the two pending cases lodged by the Amtsgericht Köln (Cologne local court) and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, Advocate General Bot sees no reason why the Court should reconsider its interpretation. That interpretation is based, amongst other things, on the very objective of the European legislation, which is to ensure a high level of protection for air passengers regardless of whether they are denied boarding or whether their flight is cancelled or delayed, since they are all caused similar serious trouble and inconvenience connected with air transport.

In his view, that interpretation is also consistent with the principle of equal treatment, by virtue of which passengers may not be treated differently depending on whether a flight has been cancelled or delayed when they suffer on that account similar damage consisting in a loss of time and thus find themselves in comparable situations so far as the right to compensation is concerned.

Furthermore, the Advocate General takes the view that EU law is compatible with the principle of proportionality. Compensating passengers whose flights have been delayed does not, in his view, result in an arbitrary and unduly severe financial burden on air carriers, particularly since the frequency of delays of more than three hours, which confer entitlement to compensation, appears to be limited. Moreover, airlines are not obliged to pay compensation if they can prove that the cancellation or long delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances.

The Advocate General observes that EU law is also compatible with the Montreal Convention and with the principle of legal certainty which requires that passengers and air carriers should know exactly the extent of their respective rights and obligations.

Finally, the Advocate General considers the submissions of certain airlines, which request that the Court limit the temporal effects of the judgment to be given. They submit that the interpretation given by the Court should not be relied on as the basis for passengers’ compensation claims prior to the date of judgment in the present cases, except with regard to passengers who have already brought court proceedings as at that date.

Advocate General Bot recalls that, as a rule, the Court’s judgments apply to legal relationships which arose and were established before the judgment ruling on a request for interpretation. He points out that the Court has already had the opportunity, in its judgment in Sturgeon, to rule on the question of compensation for passengers whose flights have been delayed and that it did not limit the temporal effects of that judgment. Accordingly, there is no need to limit the temporal effects of the judgment to be given in the present cases.

Source: ECJ press release 63/12 of May 15, 2012

Find full text of opinion here>>.

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