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Continued: Families of victims in recent airline crashes could seek compensation above normal limits

  • Article by: DAVID KOENIG , Associated Press
  • Last update: August 26, 2014 - 5:45 AM

"My mother and my sister were thinking that it is blood money," said Calehr, who was born in the Netherlands and now practices law — including aviation law — in Houston. "I told them, 'This is not profiting from the boys' demise. This is your right.' The only accountability you can get from a company is financial compensation, and maybe an apology."

In the months since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, Steve Wang, a Chinese citizen whose mother was on the plane, decided to seek more than the $174,000 limit. It is a form of leverage.

"What I need most is not the compensation," Wang said. "What I really need is (to know) what happened to the plane — where is it now? So we want to push them to search in a faster way."

After many crashes, lawsuits are filed against the airlines, the aircraft manufacturer, and the makers of aviation systems on the plane. In the Air Algerie case, Spain's Swiftair, which was operating the flight, could be a target.

Flight 17 is different — a civilian airliner shot out of the sky — but if families can't sue Russia or the rebels suspected of firing the missile, there is precedent for finding an airline liable after its plane was shot down.

In 1983, a Soviet fighter jet downed Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a Boeing 747 jumbo jet bound from New York to Seoul via Anchorage, Alaska. The KAL plane with 269 people on board had flown off course and into Soviet airspace. The Soviets never compensated any of the passengers' families. Years later, families in the U.S. won settlements and jury awards against Korean Air that ranged up to $10 million, The Associated Press reported at the time.

Governments can invoke sovereignty, but they have compensated families in rare cases. After an American warship shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, the U.S. agreed to pay $61.8 million to the families of victims.

Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international trade sanctions imposed after the attack. Unlike Russia, the U.S. government had designated Libya a state sponsor of terrorism.

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