London, Nov. 6 (Reuters): Britain’s High Court abruptly halted a case brought by blood clot victims against a group of airlines today after the judge suddenly remembered he was a British Airways shareholder.
Judge Robert Nelson stunned the court with the revelation that he realised he owned 1,450 BA shares only when he read about the airline’s results in a newspaper yesterday afternoon, on the first day of the multi-million pound damages case.
British Airways is among 28 airlines being sued by victims of what they call “economy class syndrome”, deadly deep vein thrombosis blood clots that the claimants blame on cramped aircraft cabins.
The judge insisted there was no question of his BA shares, which he has since sold, influencing the outcome of the case.
“They are absolutely incapable of affecting my decision one way or the other, but parties must be given the opportunity to decide,” he said, adjourning the case until November 18 when it will restart with or without him as judge.
The claimants have until November 13 to say whether they want him to stay on the bench and the airlines, including KLM Royal Dutch and American Airlines, must respond by November 14.
If there are any objections there will be a hearing on November 15. Neither side commented as bewigged and begowned lawyers packed up and left the courtroom. If the airlines were to lose the case it would be another blow to an industry reeling from the global economic slowdown and a slump in ticket sales after the September 11 attacks.
The victims allege that cramped seats, low oxygen levels and long hours in the air are to blame for the clots that can measure up to a foot in length and invade the lungs, heart and brain. They say airlines failed to warn passengers of the risks of deep vein thrombosis despite knowing of them for years.
The airlines reject the claims.
Legal arguments in the High Court will first centre on an international aviation treaty, the 1929 Warsaw Convention, that says airlines are liable for damages only in the case of accident.
The airlines argue that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is not an accident. In other words, if a passenger is struck down with DVT on a routine flight the carrier cannot be blamed.