Which case won?

The case for the passenger
  • After the hot tea was spilt on me, I jumped up and twisted my back sharply.
  • I immediately felt a sharp pain in my lower back.
  • The pain persisted after the flight and I had to have surgery on my spine.
  • I now suffer ongoing pain and disability because of the spinal injury I sustained during the flight.
The case for the airline
  • The passenger did not complain of back pain during the flight.
  • The passenger waited five days after the flight before seeking treatment for her spinal injury, despite allegedly enduring a high level of pain.
  • There is copious medical evidence that the passenger already had a significant back problem for some time before the flight.
  • The incident on the airplane did not cause or exacerbate the passenger’s back problem.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out
Case A Case B

Case B won. You were right!

How people voted
case a30%
case b70%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

Julia Camus
Julia CamusSenior Associate
“The judge did not accept that the spinal injury the passenger suffered was a consequence of the tea-spilling incident or was aggravated by that incident.”
Spinal injury not a consequence of tea-spilling incident

In the case Dibbs v Emirates [2015] NSWSC 1332, the judge accepted that the incident when hot tea was spilt on the passenger, Michelle Dibbs, was an “accident” as defined by the Montreal Convention, which has force of law in Australia.

However, he did not accept that the back injury Ms Dibbs suffered was a consequence of that incident or was aggravated by that incident.

Factors casting doubt on passenger's version of events

Several details served to cast doubt on the passenger’s version of events. One was that the report of the tea-spilling incident compiled by the crew during the flight referred only to the mild burn Ms Dibbs had sustained from the hot tea and made no mention of back pain.

Another was the five-day delay between the mid-flight incident and Ms Dibbs seeking medical help.

The judge noted, somewhat witheringly, that although Ms Dibbs had seen a number of doctors and medical specialists following the flight, “the first person independent of the plaintiff to record a complaint from her associating the tea incident with the injury… were the doctors the plaintiff consulted for the purposes of litigation.”

Passenger’s account of events seen as lacking credibility

The judge found the evidence of Ms Dibbs and her fiancé, who accompanied her on the flight, to be unreliable, stating: “the detail of significant events, such as how she fell after being splashed with tea, shifted under cross-examination like sands under the force of a strong current.”

Consequently, the passenger’s claim against the airline was dismissed. Furthermore, she was ordered to pay the airline’s legal costs, in addition to her own.

NOTICE: This article is accurate as at the time of publication and does not constitute legal advice. Please see our legal notices page for more information. Information related to coronavirus can be outdated very quickly.

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