Domestic & International Aviation Accident Attorney

The Bay Area accident attorneys at Sterns & Walker represents victims of both domestic and international aviation accidents.

Domestic vs International

A flight’s classification as domestic or international can have serious implications for liability and recovery issues.  Aviation accidents involving international flights are governed by a series of international treaties and laws, such as the Warsaw Convention, the Intercarrier Agreement on Passenger Liability, and the Montreal Convention of 1999.  The Warsaw treaty set a maximum level of liability for airlines based on the airline’s.  Up until 1996, absent what was called “willful misconduct,” the maximum level of compensation available to accident victims from the United States was $75,000.  However, in 1996, the Intercarrier Agreement modified the Warsaw Convention as to most airlines, allowing victims to make claims for damages equal to what is available in domestic flights.  As under the Warsaw system, claims for emotional damages are not allowed unless physical injury occurred as well.


The Montreal Convention makes air carriers strictly liable for proven damages up to a certain amount of 100,000 Special Drawing Rights (approximately $160,000), meaning that no proof of negligence or fault is required; the plaintiff need only prove the fact of the injury and that it was caused by an “accident” in order to obtain recovery.  For claims above the liability limit, the airline may avoid liability by proving that the accident was not a result of negligence on its part.  This task, however, is a heavy burden on the airlines, and a defense unlikely to prevail.

Under these international agreements, two conditions must be met in order for there to be any actionable right against an airline.  First, an “accident” must occur, which according to the United States Supreme Court means a happening or event (including negative conduct) that is external to the passenger, unexpected from the passenger’s point of view, and not associated with the normal operation of the airplane.  Second, there must be an actual physical or bodily “injury,” meaning that mental or emotional distress cannot be the sole basis for a claim.

Commitment to Justice

Firm co-founder Gerald Sterns participated in a landmark decision in the United States Supreme Court hinging on the meaning of “accident” under the Warsaw Convention.  Because of this victory in the nation’s highest court, the liability of airlines for an “accident” was extended to “negative conduct,” that is, the failure of airline personnel to respond to a medical request of the passenger, and the family of the victim was able to recover against the airline for the senseless death it caused when it arbitrarily refused to move an asthmatic passenger from in front of a smoking section.

Contact Us

At the Law Offices of Sterns & Walker, our attorneys are called upon to serve as advisors to attorneys and accident victims in countries across the globe where airline disasters have occurred.  For assistance in representation before a domestic court, or foreign tribunal as needed, contact the Law Offices of Sterns & Walker today.