El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) will pay NIS 92,000 to passengers whose flight from Moscow was delayed for 17 hours. Each of the 35 passengers will receive NIS 2,050, and their legal representative will be paid an NIS 18,000 fee, the Rehovot Magistrates Court ruled.
The passenger appeared at the airport for their planned 7 pm takeoff and were issued boarding cards. After boarding the airplane, however, El Al announced that the flight was canceled, and would take off only the next day. El Al said that a rare technical malfunction was involved "of a security character that could not be handled at Moscow Airport," and therefore canceled the flight in order to avoid jeopardizing the passengers' safety. An El Al representative also said that while the claimants were waiting for the postponed flight, it had given them supper and sent them to hotels. Adv. Asher Rotbaum represented the plaintiffs.
Judge Menachem Mizrahi commented on the compensation to which the passengers were entitled under the Aviation Services Law (Compensation and Change of Conditions - 2012), which provides for compensation according to the length of the flight: NIS 1,280 up to 2,000 kilometers, NIS 2,050 for 2,000-4,500 kilometers, and NIS 3,070 for more than 4,500 kilometers. In this case, the flight was 2,700 kilometers long, and the compensation was therefore NIS 2,050 per passenger. The law also states that the judge is also authorized to award each passenger up to NIS 10,380 in exemplary damages in cases in which the flight operator knowingly failed to provide benefits to passengers whose flight was canceled.
The law exempts airlines from paying compensation in cases in which the cancelation or delay of a flight was caused by "special circumstances." The court considered what the rather vague phrase "special circumstances" exempting an airline from paying compensation consisted of, and whether a malfunction, however special and rare it might be, was included in it. The judge cited a series of previous rulings in which airlines were not exempted from paying compensation to passengers for cancelations or delays caused by technical malfunctions, and ruled, "An interpretation in which any case of technical malfunction is grounds for exemption cannot be accepted. If such an interpretation were to be accepted, the law would be meaningless… The assumption is that the defendant has no motive for canceling its flights for no reason, which will cause it damage. A cancelation is always because of some malfunction or other… If the court recognizes an ordinary technical malfunction as grounds for an exemption, many passengers whose flight is canceled will receive no compensation, and there will be no effective enforcement of this consumer law designed to prove a remedy to the entire public."
The judge therefore said that the definition of "special circumstances" referred to events constituting force majeure, such as sudden and unpredictable weather, general natural disasters, wars, unexpected general strikes, a general structural malfunction in airliners, etc. - that would justify the exemption.
The judge added, "In principle, there is no technical malfunction for which a reasonable solution or response cannot be found. It is all a question of price, economic viability, planning and deployment of a technical set-up that can provide a suitable response to malfunctions within a reasonable time. By nature, the operation of aircraft involves wear and tear and malfunctions, and the defendant should expect such situations, prepare spare parts, employ suitable professional staff, keep spare airplane parts available, buy equipment, etc… I did not get the impression that the malfunction in the case presented before me was so rare or amazing that the defendant could not have anticipated it."
The judge ruled that each of the passengers was entitled to compensation without an exemplary damages clause, in view of the fact that El Al had not disavowed its duty to take care of the passengers forced to wait many hours in this case.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 30, 2017
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