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The Athens Convention And Part 20 Claims

Feest v South West SHA “The Celtic Pioneer” [2014] EWHC 177 (QB)

The case involved a claimant who suffered a serious spinal injury during the course of a corporate team-building exercise on a boat in the Bristol Channel. Having missed the two-year limitation period for a claim against the operators of the boat, she brought a personal injury action against her employer just before the expiry of the three-year limitation period.

Her employer then sought to bring a Part 20 claim against the owner and operator of the boat involved in the incident. In their defence, the boat owners submitted that the Athens Convention applied to the trip and that as a result of Articles 14 and 16, the claim was time-barred since it had been brought more than two years after the date the injured party disembarked. The district judge accepted this submission and the Part 20 claim was dismissed. The employer appealed the decision.

On appeal the employer argued that their claim against the carrier was based on a separate course of action and in line with the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act. As such, it should not be prevented by the operation of a two-year limitation period.

The court referred to the case of Stag Line Ltd v Foscolo Mango & Co Ltd [1932] AC 328, where it was said in relation to the Hague Rules that:

“As these rules come under the consideration of foreign Courts it is desirable in the interests of uniformity that their interpretation should not be rigidly controlled by domestic precedents of antecedent date, but rather that the language of the rules should be construed on broad principles of general acceptation.”

The judge considered that the language of Article 16 of the Athens Convention was couched in broad enough terms so as to bar the claim by her employers. The judge referred to the fact that it was also an international convention and should not be construed with reference to domestic law. His view was that most countries who have adopted it treat Article 16 as entirely extinguishing the cause of action rather than as a procedural time bar. As such, it precluded her employer’s claim against the operator of the boat and the Part 20 action failed.

It is crucial to bear this in mind when advising co-defendants in relation to multi-party passenger claims. In some cases it could be necessary to issue a protective claim form even before the main action is commenced.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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