Knowledge Platform

Liability for death, personal injury and property damage

Each mode of transport is subject to a different international convention dealing with liability issues, which in turn have been enshrined into EU law by separate EU regulations. 

Perhaps due to the fact that the regimes have been developed in response to the nuances of each mode of transport and the associated issues – as they have arisen on an ad hoc basis – rather than as a result of a comprehensive multi-modal review of liability issues more generally, it is not surprising that the characteristics of each regime differ.

That said, as each regime has been amended over time, certain key commonalities have emerged in line with EU policy– with each regime that is later in time drawing from the key characteristics of the regimes that have gone before it, and adapting to fit with the key themes developing at EU level.

Although not appearing in each and every regime, the key commonalities that can be more readily identified are listed below:

1.  Primary liability rests with the ‘carrier’, ‘operator’ and/or ‘organiser’ (all modes)

2.  Distinction between contracting carrier and performing carrier (air, sea, rail, road)

3.  A tiered approach to limitation of liability (air, sea)

4.  A distinct regime for damage to mobility equipment (sea, road, rail)

5.  Loss of right to limit where damage results from act or omission done with intent of recklessly (air, sea, rail)

6.  Advance payments in the event of death/personal injury (air, sea, rail)

The key principle behind the liability regimes for every mode of transport – whether at international or European level – is one of transparency and certainty for the passenger if something should go wrong. Passenger perception and protection is key and of paramount importance from an EU perspective when considering the potential impact of passenger rights. The ability of the carrier to then limit any liability is arguably secondary.