Narayanan v. British Airways

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 03-19-2014
  • Case #: 11-55870
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Nguyen for the Court; Circuit Judges Fletcher and Pregerson
  • Full Text Opinion

The Montreal Convention’s two-year statute of limitations period under Article 35(1) operates as a condition precedent to suit, and is not subject to equitable tolling.

Panasam Narayanan’s heirs and estate filed this lawsuit under the Montreal Convention (“Convention”) after Narayanan died six months after he was allegedly denied supplemental oxygen aboard a British Airways international flight. The action was filed more than two years after the flight’s arrival, but within two years of Narayanan’s death. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely, because under Article 35(1) of the Convention, a claim for damages must be filed within two years of the date of arrival, or the date it should have arrived, at its destination. On appeal, Narayanan’s estate contended that the Convention’s two-year limitations period should have been triggered on the day of Narayanan’s death, when their wrongful death claim accrued under California law. The panel rejected this argument, finding that the plain language of Article 35(1) leaves no room for flexibility as to the commencement of the limitations period, because the language is unambiguous. Additionally, the Convention’s drafting history also supports the plain language interpretation. The Convention’s drafters adopted a “very simple” proposal advanced by the Italian delegation: “if two years after the accident no action has been brought, all actions are extinguished.” The panel held that Article 35(1) is clear, the two-year limitations period applies although the claim had not yet accrued, and thus the plaintiffs’ claim was untimely. AFFIRMED.

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