Airline liable for second-hand smoke death


Well-Known Member
I feel like the FA could have done something. Any comments from any of the FA's out there on what their airline's policy is and what they would have done?
(I would have just posted the link, but you have to register yada yada yada before you can access the article)

Justices Say Airline Is Liable for a Fatal Reaction to Smoking
New York Times
Published: February 25, 2004

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 - The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that an airline was liable for the death of a 52-year-old passenger who had an asthmatic reaction to cigarette smoke, because the flight attendant repeatedly refused to move him farther from the smoking section.

In a 6-to-2 decision, the court upheld a lower court ruling that the flight attendant's refusal constituted an "accident" under the treaty governing airline liability, the Warsaw Convention, and that Olympic Airways should pay the passenger's widow $1.4 million.

The victim, Abid M. Hanson, a California doctor, was traveling home from Athens to San Francisco with his wife and children in January 1998. According to briefs filed in the suit, Mr. Hanson's wife, Rubina Husain, asked three times that he be switched to a seat nearer the front of the plane, away from the smokers, but the flight attendant first said there were no empty seats and later said she was too busy to help him find a passenger to switch with.

About two hours into the flight, Dr. Hanson moved to the front of the plane to get farther from the smokers. Leaning against a seat near the airplane galley, he gestured to his wife to bring him his emergency kit; she did and gave him a shot of epinephrine, and awoke an allergist with whom they had been traveling, who gave him a second shot and administered CPR and oxygen. Despite these efforts, Dr. Hanson died.

In fact, the briefs said, there were 11 empty seats, and a large group of airline employees on board who could have been asked to switch.

Smoking was mostly banned on domestic flights by the early 1990's and in the last five years it has become rare on international flights.

A crucial issue in the case was the definition of "accident." The court cited a decision it issued in 1985 that defined an accident as an "unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger." The majority, in an opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled that the flight attendant's refusal was external and unexpected and was "a link in a chain of causation resulting in a passenger's pre-existing medical condition being aggravated by exposure to a normal condition in the aircraft cabin."

Justices Antonin Scalia and Sandra Day O'Connor dissented. They pointed out that courts in other countries that have signed the Warsaw Convention have ruled that failure to act could not be called an accident. Justice Scalia wrote that the Warsaw Convention did not provide for penalties "even when outrageous conduct and grievous injury have occurred, unless there has been an `accident.' "

"Whatever that term means," he wrote, "it certainly does not equate to `outrageous conduct that causes grievous injury.' "

Justice Stephen G. Breyer took no part in the case, Olympic Airways v. Husain, No. 02-1348.

A successful suit by a passenger against an airline for smoking may be unprecedented, said Richard A. Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston and the chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, which assists in suits against tobacco companies. Mr. Daynard noted that in 1997 a group of flight attendants won a $300 million settlement from the tobacco companies.