Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
No. 5:13-cv-14358—John Corbett O’Meara, District Judge.
Argued: October 19, 2016
Decided and Filed: August 30, 2017
Before: BOGGS, SUHRHEINRICH, and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges.
BOGGS, Circuit Judge. Plaintiff Jane Doe and her eleven-year-old daughter flew aboard
Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to Chicago. For the duration of the fourteen-hour journey,
Doe’s tray table remained open in her lap because a knob that was meant to hold it in place had
fallen to the floor. During the flight, Doe’s daughter found the knob on the floor and gave it to
Doe, who placed it in a seatback pocket. When it came time to descend, an Etihad flight
attendant (unaware of the detached knob) gave Doe the familiar reminder to place her tray table
in the upright and locked position for landing. Doe, of course, could not comply. To aid in
explaining her problem, she reached into the seatback pocket to retrieve the fallen knob. But
when she stuck her hand into the pocket, she was unexpectedly pricked by a hypodermic needle
that lay hidden within. She gasped, and the needle drew blood from her finger.
Doe claims damages from Etihad for both her physical injury and her “mental distress,
shock, mortification, sickness and illness, outrage and embarrassment from natural sequela of
possible exposure to” various diseases. Her husband claims loss of consortium. The Montreal
Convention of 1999, an international treaty under which these claims arise, imposes strict
liability (up to a monetary cap) upon Etihad “for damage sustained in case of death or bodily
injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took
place on board the aircraft.” Etihad concedes that an accident onboard its aircraft caused Doe to
suffer a bodily injury. But Etihad argues that “damage sustained in case of . . . bodily injury”
means only “damage caused by bodily injury,” and thus does not include Doe’s fear of contagion
and other emotional-distress and mental-anguish damages—damages that Etihad claims were
caused not by Doe’s bodily injury (the small hole in her finger) but by the nature of the
instrumentality of that injury (the needle). The district court agreed and granted partial summary
judgment for Etihad. But the district court erred both in reading the additional “caused by”
requirement into the treaty and in concluding that Doe’s bodily injury didn’t cause her emotional
and mental injuries. The plain text of the Montreal Convention allows Doe to recover all her
“damage sustained” from the incident, which includes damages for both physical injury and
accompanying emotional or mental harm. So, for the reasons that follow, we reverse and