Woman who tripped at Dublin Airport has negligence claim overturned by Court of Appeal

A woman who tripped on the steps of an air bridge as she disembarked from a flight arriving at Dublin Airport has seen her negligence claim against the Dublin Airport Authority overturned by the Court of Appeal.

In the High Court, the trial judge had accepted that the absence of wall signs warning passengers of the steps was enough to prove negligence on the part of the authority. However, the three-judge Court of Appeal was unanimous in ruling that the woman had failed to prove that the DAA was negligent, and that the trial judge was in error in his analysis of the test for negligence.


In 2009, Ms Teresa Bell was disembarking from a flight that had arrived into Dublin Airport when she tripped and fell on an air bridge between the aircraft and the terminal. In the High Court, Ms Bell pleaded her claim in negligence against the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and did not pursue the carrier, Aer Lingus.

The DAA denied negligence, pleaded contributory negligence and put injuries and quantum in issue. The DAA also pleaded that Ms Bell was not entitled to claim against the airport on the basis that she was restricted to suing the carrier, pursuant to the Montreal Convention governing international air travel. President Ryan explained that “instead of adopting that advantageous procedure, she erroneously proceeded against the Airport Authority”.


The negligence alleged was that DAA did not have wall signs at head height to alert people to the fact that there were steps in the flooring of the walkway. The evidence of Ms Bell’s engineer and all the other witnesses was that the steps on which she tripped were visible through the use of luminous yellow markings .

Ms Bell testified that she did not see the step, and her case was that the step was obscured from view because of the other passengers ahead of her on the bridge going towards the airport terminal – however, the evidence of another passenger called by Ms Bell stated that there were less than ten passengers in front of her.

President Ryan was of the opinion that even if the air bridge had been crowded with people, it was difficult to understand just how Ms Bell could have been prevented from seeing the luminous yellow strip indicating the saddle.

Ms Bell’s engineer, Mr. Wynn said “if there had been signs on the wall at eye level, that would have gone a long way to eliminating the effect of the hazard created by the step or saddle”. President Ryan stated that this was “a far cry from establishing causation” and that Mr Wynn’s personal experience as a traveller at other airports was not satisfactory expert evidence, and that Mr Wynn “was unable to provide technical engineering analysis to assist the court”.

President Ryan was satisfied that there was “nothing to demonstrate… how the Airport Authority was in breach of its duty to take reasonable care” and “the mere fact that other airports did things differently was not evidence of negligence on the part of the DAA”.

Accordingly, it was not sufficient for Ms Bell to prove that some particular measure might have or would have prevented the accident happening – this is not the test of negligence, which in this case would be: “did DAA take reasonable care to ensure that the access to the terminal from the aircraft was safe?”

The Court was in agreement that Ms Bell’s case in negligence could not succeed because there was “simply no evidence of any negligence on the part of the DAA”.

President Ryan added that “the trial judge fell into the error of thinking that because there was evidence of a measure that might have made a difference, the failure to do it was negligent”.

The Montreal Convention

The issue that arose in relation to the Convention was whether the High Court was correct to rule that Ms Bell was not restricted to suing Aer Lingus as the carrier with which she had travelled

Article 17.1 makes the carrier liable for injury to a passenger on board the aircraft or in the course of embarkation or disembarkation.

President Ryan held that there was no question in this case but that Ms. Bell was disembarking from the aeroplane when she sustained her injuries, and that in those circumstances, she could only bring her claim subject to the conditions of the Convention. TO support this view President Ryan cited the judgment of the House of Lords in Sidhu v. British Airways AC 430, which was concerned with similar provisions in the Warsaw Convention and the Supreme Court’s judgement in S. Smyth & Co. Ltd. v. Aer Turas Teo (Unreported, 3rdFebruary 1997)

In President Ryan’s judgment, Ms. Bell was restricted to proceeding against Aer Lingus irrespective of any claim that the carrier might have against a third party, including the Dublin Airport Authority, if it considered that appropriate. That did not mean that Ms. Bell was entitled to sue the Authority. This point would be available to that party in the event that Aer Lingus issued third party proceedings and Ms Bell then applied to join the Authority as an additional defendant.

While Mr Justice Gerard Hogan found it “unnecessary to address” the question of the Montreal Convention, he agreed with the conclusions found by the President as to dismissing Ms Bell’s claim in negligence and the DAA’s appeal was therefore allowed.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
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