British Airways passengers attempting to hold the airline accountable for losing an estimated one million pieces of luggage received some good news today when a District Court judge ruled a nationwide class action lawsuit could move forward in the United States court system.

The ruling, issued by United States District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, denied British Airways’ motion to dismiss the consumer class action, filed in 2007, which seeks to recover travelers’ actual losses rather than a US$1,500 cap the airline uses to limit damages. The court noted and rejected “BA’s extreme position” that it was not responsible for actual losses for lost baggage unless its mishandling rate was “worse than fifty percent.”

According to the suit originally filed in Federal Court in Seattle, British Air lost 23 bags per 1,000 passengers carried, about 60 percent more than the industry average and twice as bad as the worst US carrier.

International airlines typically cap liability for lost luggage, citing The Montreal Convention, to which the United States and 124 other countries are signatories. That agreement limits liability to US$1,500 per passenger but also waives that limit if the airline acted recklessly and with knowledge that damage would probably result.

“The judge’s ruling puts international airline carriers on notice that they cannot hide behind the Montreal Convention to deny passengers the care and respect to which they are entitled,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and the attorney representing passengers. “This ruling affirms that the convention protects passengers from airlines that demonstrate they don’t care about passengers’ luggage.”

“Since we filed the complaint in September 2007, we have been inundated with calls and emails from passengers who experienced horrific treatment by British Air, in the way the airline dealt with baggage, and how they dealt with passengers searching for luggage,” Berman continued.

Media reports cite huge piles of lost luggage from British Airways flights piled on London’s Heathrow airport tarmac subjected to rain, and was otherwise misrouted and mistreated.

The suit also claims that despite an internal April 2007 report that the British Airlines overloaded its baggage-handling system by nearly 25 percent, it failed to alert passengers to the increasing complications posed by its flawed system.

Additional reports indicate that the airline’s backlog of lost passenger baggage reached 20,000 pieces by March 2007, the complaint states. The amended complaint goes on to cite that British Air workers claim that in reality the backlog neared 40,000 bags at that time.

The suit seeks to represent American passengers who flew internationally on British Air and who had luggage lost, damaged or delayed between September 5, 2005 and September 5, 2007.