Claim that court ruling could cost airline over €5m 'absurd', says Ryanair

Millions of Ryanair passengers could be in line for a payout after a landmark court judgment in the UK ruled that the airline cannot limit the time allowed to claim compensation for flight delays.

Lawyers say the Irish airline could be liable for payouts of around £610m (€856m) after the firm lost a test case at Manchester County Court.

Ryanair has described this figure regarding its potential liability as "absurd", however.

"Firstly, since less than 1% of Ryanair flights are delayed over three hours and since more than 90% of passengers make a valid claim within Ryanair’s contractual two-year period, there is a tiny potential group of passengers who may wish to submit a claim between two and six years after the date of their flight delay," an airline spokesperson stated.

"Accordingly, Ryanair estimates that even if its appeal in this matter is ultimately unsuccessful, its potential liability will not be material and is likely to be less than €5m.

"Less than half of 1% of Ryanair flights are delayed by over three hours (273m @ 0.3% = 0.81m).

"More than half of this figure will be covered by exceptional circumstances rules (weather, strikes etc.) (0.81m @40% = 324,000).

"More than 90% of customers who claim, do so within the contracted two-year claim period (324,000 @6% = 19,500).

"The maximum exposure for this 4 year period 2009 – 2012 is therefore 19,500 customers @ €250 = €4.895m or less than €5m."

The airline had argued claims for delays could be limited to two years under a clause in their terms and conditions small print - not six years, as is the rule under European Union Law.

The case was brought by lawyers for six delayed passengers who tried to claim compensation for delayed flights after five years and eight months, which Ryanair contested.

After a long-running legal battle, Judge Platts ruled Ryanair's rules fall foul of European Flight Delay law. Ryanair said it will appeal the decision.

Lawyers say the ruling in the case, Goel & Trivedi v Ryanair, stands to affect millions of air passengers.

They say if Ryanair had won, all airlines might have been able to put a two-year time bar on all existing and future flight delay claims.

Kevin Clarke, lawyer for Manchester law firm Bott & Co, who fought the case for the passengers, said: "We're delighted that the court has dismissed yet another argument put forward by the airlines to restrict passenger rights.

"The last 12 months have seen a series of landmark judgments obtained by Bott & Co on behalf of millions of passengers and this is as important as any of those that precede it.

"The Supreme Court decision last year said passengers have six years to bring a claim. That is a definitive, binding, clear judgment from the highest court in England and Wales.

"This should have concluded matters but unfortunately Ryanair have been able to tweak the argument; we found ourselves running a complicated court case arguing the fine points of contract law.

"We fully expect the airlines to continue to fight these cases but we are prepared to hold them to account in each and every instance where the law says compensation is payable, and with the courts continuing to find on behalf of consumers we've real cause to be optimistic that passengers will receive the compensation they are entitled to."

However, Ryanair said they will contest the ruling.

In a statement, the firm said: "We note this ruling which reverses Lower Court orders that a two-year time limit for claims is reasonable.

"Since we believe a six-year time limit for submitting such claims is both unnecessary and unreasonable, we have instructed our lawyers to immediately appeal this ruling."

Flight delay Regulation EC 261/2004 entitles passengers to claim flight compensation of up to €600 per person for delays of three hours or more, as long as the delay was not caused by ``extraordinary circumstances''.

The UK Supreme Court ruling in Dawson v Thomson Airways in October last year clarified that passengers in England and Wales have six years to take a claim to court.

But Ryanair has been arguing that by accepting the airline’s terms and conditions when they buy a ticket, passengers agree that they only have two years to take a claim to court, despite the earlier Supreme Court judgment.

In today’s ruling, Judge Platts suggested that Ryanair did not have this latest legal argument in mind when the Terms and Conditions were drawn up.

Judge Platts said that Ryanair’s complicated legal argument “...requires a somewhat ingenious legal analysis which I doubt was in the mind of the parties when the contract was made”.

The test case of Goel & Trivedi v Ryanair was taken to court by Bott & Co on January 30, 2014, five years and eight months after the delay itself.

Six passengers were delayed by nine hours and 50 minutes on a flight from Reus in Spain to Stansted on March 6, 2008.

Ryanair put on hold the Goel & Trivedi case pending the outcome of the test cases Huzar v Jet2 and Dawson v Thomson Airways in 2014.

But when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of delayed passengers in both cases, Ryanair changed its argument to focus on its Terms and Conditions to defend the claim.

Lawyers say although no other airlines are currently running the two-year limitation argument, the majority have a similar clause in their terms and conditions stating that passengers only have two years to issue court proceedings.

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