DeMarines testified that some time during the flight to Amsterdam he suffered an explosion-like pressure within his head. As a result, his speech became garbled and he experienced a "stoned, completely numb feeling" inside his head. Later that day he claims to have experienced a loss of equilibrium which has continued to the present.
On October 5, 1976, a trial on all the issues began, plaintiff advancing the theory that he sustained an injury proximately caused by an accident in connection with the pressurization of the aircraft. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. DeMarines in the amount of $1,000,000 and in favor of Mrs. DeMarines in the amount of $50,000.
This decision of the court was made based upon the liabilty of an airline to its passengers, which is delineated in Article 17 of the Warsaw Convention, which reads: “The carrier shall be liable for damage sustained in the event of the death or wounding of a passenger or any other bodily injury suffered by a passenger, if the accident which caused the damage so sustained took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.”
Thus, Article 17 requires as a condition precedent to liability under the Warsaw Convention a determination that an "accident" occurred and that the accident proximately caused the injury sustained. Meanwhile, this case among others brought up a confusion because of the lack of the definition of what qualifies as an accident.
Precisely what kind of event can be labelled an accident is not defined in the Warsaw Convention. Distilling the analytical essence of decisions made before for other cases, the district court delivered the following charge by adding in the exact definition of an accident.
An accident is an event, a physical circumstance, which unexpectedly takes place not according to the usual course of things. If the event on board an airplane is an ordinary, expected, and usual occurrence, then it cannot be termed an accident. To constitute an accident, the occurrence on board the aircraft must be unusual or unexpected, an unusual or unexpected happening.
On November 16, 1980, respondent Valerie Saks boarded an Air France jetliner in Paris for a 12-hour flight to Los Angeles. The flight went smoothly in all respects until, as the aircraft descended to Los Angeles, Saks felt severe pressure and pain in her left ear. The pain continued after the plane landed, but Saks disembarked without informing any Air France crew member or employee of her ailment. Five days later, Saks consulted a doctor who concluded that she had become permanently deaf in her left ear.
Saks filed suit against Air France in California state court, alleging that her hearing loss was caused by negligent maintenance and operation of the jetliner's pressurization system. After extensive discovery, Air France moved for summary judgment on the ground that respondent could not