Chan v. Korean Air Lines, Ltd.,
490 U.S. 122 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Chan v. Korean Air Lines, Ltd., 490 U.S. 122 (1989)

Chan v. Korean Air Lines, Ltd.

No. 87-1055

Argued December 7, 1988

Decided April 18, 1989

490 U.S. 122


This case involves wrongful-death actions against Korean Air Lines, Ltd. (KAL) by survivors of persons killed when one of its planes was destroyed by a Soviet aircraft. All parties agree that their rights are governed by the multilateral treaty known as the Warsaw Convention, which provides a per passenger damages limitation for personal injury or death. A private accord among airlines known as the Montreal Agreement requires carriers to give notice of this limitation to passengers in print size no smaller than 10-point type. Since KAL's notice to passengers on the flight in question appeared in only 8-point type, plaintiffs moved for a partial summary judgment declaring that the discrepancy deprived KAL of the benefit of the damages limitation. The District Court denied the motion, finding that neither the Convention nor the Agreement prescribes elimination of the limitation as the sanction for failure to provide the required form of notice. The Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory appeal.

Held: International air carriers do not lose the benefit of the Warsaw Convention's damages limitation if they fail to provide notice of that limitation in passenger tickets. The Montreal Agreement concededly does not impose such a sanction, and the Convention's plain language also does not direct that result. Interpreting the second sentence of Article 3(2) of the Convention -- which subjects a carrier to unlimited liability only for the nondelivery of a passenger ticket -- to apply to the failure to provide an "adequate" statement of notice of the damages limitation conflicts with the language of the first sentence of Article 3(2), which specifies that "[t]he . . . irregularity . . . of the . . . ticket shall not affect the existence or the validity of the [transportation] contract." Such an interpretation of the text would also entail the unlikely result that even a minor defect in a ticket, totally unrelated to adequate notice, would eliminate the liability limitation. That defective compliance with the notice provision does not void the damages limitation is confirmed by comparing Article 3(2) with other Convention provisions, which specifically impose that sanction for failure to include the notice of liability limitation in baggage checks and air waybills for cargo. Although the Convention's drafting history might be consulted to elucidate a text that is ambiguous,

Page 490 U. S. 123

this Court has no power to insert an amendment into a treaty where the text is clear. Pp. 490 U. S. 125-135.

265 U.S.App.D.C. 39, 829 F.2d 1171, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 490 U. S. 136.

Primary Holding

International air carriers do not lose the benefit of the Warsaw Convention's damages limitation if they fail to provide notice of that limitation in passenger tickets.

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