Van der Lans vs. KLM. What the European Court of Justice thought.

The EUclaim team were at the European Court of Justice Court in Luxembourg on 7 May 2015 to hear the Van der Lans vs. KLM case.   Representatives from the Dutch Government, the EU Commission and KLM were also present.  Germany, UK, France and Italy made written responses about the case but were not present at the hearing.

The Van der Lans vs. KLM case was recently reported in the UK press when it was highlighted in the Allen V Jet2.com which was heard at Liverpool County Court. In this instance Jet2 requested that their case was stayed or put on hold pending the outcome of Van der Lans vs. KLM. In his judgment the British Judge said ‘…a line should now be drawn. Justice delayed is justice denied.’

So, just what are the issues behind the Van der Lans case vs. KLM. It’s all about whether a technical problem that arises spontaneously (as opposed to one which is detected during routine maintenance) is an extraordinary circumstance under EU Regulation 261/2004. Remember, extraordinary circumstances are the airline’s only defence against paying out flight delay compensation.

At the hearing KLM upheld that a technical defect is ‘unforeseeable’ and should therefore be deemed extraordinary and thus air passengers are not entitled to flight delay compensation. The airline maintained that it is unable to hold its suppliers liable for damages as warranties for parts are not provided. 

The EU judges then asked KLM where within Regulation 261 the relation between ‘unforeseeable’ and ‘extraordinary circumstances’ is described as they were unable to locate a reference. Unfortunately, KLM were unable to direct the judges to the reference and could not provide an answer to the question. The response from the EU judges was that airlines know that technical defects do happen so they cannot be seen as ‘unforeseeable’.

Other attendees in the court felt differently, the Dutch Government for example is pro-airline and maintains that technical defects that occur after the ‘pre-flight check’ and before take off are all extraordinary. In spite of this national view Dutch courts have ruled very differently in similar cases. The German Government on the other hand is pro-passenger and views that a technical defect due to corrosion is not extraordinary. The EU commission feels that it is a decision that needs to be made by the National Court of The Netherlands.

And the EUclaim view “The European Court of Justice did not seem to be impressed by KLM’s argument,” commented Adeline Noorderhaven, Manager EUclaim UK.   

A ruling by the European Court of Justice will follow, but it is expected that this will take at least 5 months.

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