05 NOV 2015
South West Strategic Health Authority v Bay Island Voyages  EWCA Civ 708
Court of Appeal: Laws, Tomlinson and Kitchin LJJ
9 June 2015
The limitation period in Art 16 of the Athens Convention 1974 (‘the Convention’) did not extend to claims for contribution. The limitation period is remedy barring and not right extinguishing.
In 2008, Dr Feest sustained a spinal injury while a passenger on board a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) owned by the respondent. Dr Feest was on a corporate team building exercise while employed by the appellant. Dr Feest sued the appellant for damages and the appellant issued a Part 20 claim against the respondent seeking a contribution to any liability.
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The respondent filed a defence that the Part 20 Claim did not rely on the Convention, which governs the liability owed by carriers to their passengers; had not been brought within the two-year time limit specified in Art 16 of the Convention; and also denying liability. The respondent applied for summary judgment and this was granted by a district judge on the basis that the claimant’s right to bring a claim had expired with the end of the limitation period and there was therefore no basis on which a contribution claim could rely. The appellant lost at appeal, the judge stating that the contribution claim had been extinguished.
The Court of Appeal held, first, that the provisions of the Convention were not directly applicable to a claim for contribution, as a claim for contribution was not ‘an action for damages for … personal injury to a passenger … brought against a carrier’. The claim for contribution was an autonomous claim and derived from English domestic statutory entitlement.
Secondly, the Court of Appeal held that the language of Art 16 did not extinguish the right on which the contribution claim was based; the limitation was remedy barring rather than right extinguishing. The language of the Convention would only extinguish the claim if it was given a meaning other than its natural meaning in English law and English language. It was appropriate to approach the effect of Art 16 having regard to the fact that it is in the language of an international convention rather than a domestic statute. However, there is no international understanding that the language of Art 16 extinguishes the right of action and it is not the natural meaning of the words whether in the English or French text of the Convention. Therefore Art 16 did not have an international meaning different to that which was understood by English law and English language. The appeal was allowed.
Summarised by Adam Dyl and Jodee Mayer, Anthony Gold Solicitors