Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

July 15, 2013

Courts will treat Asiana passengers differently

SAN FRANCISCO — When the courts have to figure compensation for people aboard Flight 214, the potential payouts will probably be vastly different for Americans and passengers from other countries, even if they were seated side by side as the Asiana jetliner crash-landed.

An international treaty governs compensation to passengers harmed by international air travel — from damaged luggage to crippling injuries and death. The pact is likely to close U.S. courts to many foreigners and force them to pursue their claims in Asia and elsewhere, where lawsuits are rarer, harder to win and offer smaller payouts.

Some passengers have already contacted lawyers.

“If you are a U.S. citizen, there will be no problem getting into U.S. courts. The other people are going to have a fight on their hands,” said Northern California attorney Frank Pitre, who represents two Americans who were aboard the plane.

Federal law bars lawyers from soliciting victims of air disasters for the first 45 days after the crash. Pitre said his clients called him.

Congress enacted that law in 1996 amid public anger over lawyers who solicited clients in the days immediately following the Valujet Flight 592 crash in the Florida Everglades and the crash of TWA Flight 800 off the New York coast.

National Transportation Safety Board attorney Benjamin Allen reminded attorneys of the rules in a mass email sent Thursday.

“We are closely monitoring the activities of attorneys following this accident, and will immediately notify state bar ethics officials and other appropriate authorities if impermissible activity is suspected,” the message said.

The flight that broke apart Saturday at the San Francisco airport was carrying 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64 Americans, three Canadians, three Indians, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one person from France when it approached the runway too low and too slow. The Boeing 777 hit a seawall before skittering across the tarmac and catching fire.

Three girls from China were killed and 182 people injured, most not seriously. The parents of the first two girls who died, 16-year-olds Ye Ming Yuan and Wang Lin Jia, appeared a vigil Saturday near San Francisco International Airport. Through a translator, the grieving parents thanked the more than 100 attendees for their support, according to KGO-TV.

The dozens who were seriously injured — especially the few who were paralyzed — can expect to win multimillion dollar legal settlements, as long as their claims are filed in U.S. courts, legal experts said.

Northern California attorney Mike Danko, who is consulting with several lawyers from Asia about the disaster, said any passenger who was left a quadriplegic can expect settlements close to $10 million if the case is filed in the United States. Deaths of children, meanwhile, may fetch in the neighborhood of $5 million to $10 million depending on the circumstances in U.S. courts.

In other countries, he explained, the same claims could be worth far less.

In 2001, a South Korean court ordered Korean Air Lines to pay a total of $510,000 to a woman whose daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons were killed in a 1997 crash in the U.S. territory of Guam that killed 228 people.

Broken bones in plane accidents usually mean $1 million settlements in the Unites States and in the low five-figure range overseas, Danko said.

In 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration put the value of a human life at $6 million when it was contemplating the cost-benefit of a new “cockpit resource management” regulation. But again, Danko said, that estimate applies only in U.S. courts. Foreign courts can be expected to pay far smaller settlements.

In all, the South Korean government agency that regulates that country’s insurance industry expects Asiana’s insurers to pay out about $175.5 million total — $131 million to replace the plane and another $44.5 million to passengers and the city of San Francisco for damage to the airport. Suh Chang-suk, an official at Financial Supervisory Service, declined to discuss how the watchdog agency calculated its estimate.

The international treaty is commonly referred to as the Montreal Convention because of the Canadian city where it was drafted. It offers international passengers five options for where to seek compensation: where they live, their final destination, where the ticket was issued, where the air carrier is based and the air carrier’s principal place of business.

Foreign passengers who had roundtrip tickets to final destinations beyond the U.S. face stiff legal challenges to pursue their claims against the airline in the United States, where courts are more receptive to lawsuits and the payouts larger than in the courts of most other nations.

Asiana can also invoke the America legal doctrine of “forum non conveniens” to argue that it’s much more convenient for it to litigate the Asian victims’ cases in Asia because all parties are based there.

South Korean attorney Suh Dong Hee represented some the victims of the 1997 Korean Air Lines crash in the. He said family members of the victims who pursued their case in the United States settled for as much as 100 times more than those who sued in South Korea.

Brian Havel, director of DePaul University’s International Aviation Law Institute, said the convention does require the airlines to make immediate “down payments” to victims to help with medical expenses, travel costs and other inconveniences caused by the crash.

“Everyone will get something,” Havel said. “But who receives what does largely depend on where they qualify under the convention.”

However, Pitre and others say, the foreign passengers are still able to sue others who may have contributed to the accident, such as the plane’s manufacturer, airport personnel and even, perhaps, the first responders.

Pitre said he and his clients are investigating whether Boeing Co. shoulders any responsibility for the crash, including potential design flaws in the plane’s automated instruments or differences between first-class passengers’ seatbelts, which come with a shoulder strap, and the seatbelts in the economy section, which are lap restraints only.

Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said the company buys seats from other companies and “simply installs them.” He also said the seat belt designs and configurations are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Birtel declined to discuss the other issues Pitre raised.

Authorities said Friday that one of the Chinese teenagers who died was struck by a fire truck, although it’s not clear whether that killed her. Some passengers who called 911 immediately after the crash also complained that the emergency response took too long. Those third parties and others are open to lawsuits in the United States.

San Francisco officials said ambulances could not immediately come too close to the plane out of concern the aircraft would explode.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Israel Palest_Rich copy.jpg UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

    A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP00072403324 copy.jpg Today in History for Friday, July 25, 2014

    Today is Friday, July 25, the 206th day of 2014. There are 159 days left in the year.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rebels release train with bodies from downed jet

    Bowing to international pressure, pro-Moscow separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane, four days after it plunged into rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

    July 22, 2014

  • Gaza death toll rises as truce effort intensifies

    A high-level attempt by the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state to end deadly Israel-Hamas fighting was off to a rough start Monday: Gaza’s Hamas rulers signaled they won’t agree to an unconditional cease-fire, Israel’s prime minister said he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep Israelis safe from Hamas attacks and the overall Palestinian death toll surpassed 560.

    July 22, 2014

  • AP110722023493 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, July 22, the 203rd day of 2014. There are 162 days left in the year.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Western Wildfires_Rich copy.jpg Helpful weather coming to Washington wildfires

    Cooler temperatures and lighter winds are forecast to descend on wildfire-stricken Washington state, helping firefighters battle flames that have been growing unfettered for a week and have covered hundreds of square miles.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History for Monday, July 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, July 21, the 202nd day of 2014. There are 163 days left in the year.

    July 21, 2014

  • James Garner Obit_Rich(1) copy.jpg Film, TV legend James Garner, reluctant hero, dies

    Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.
    James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his point.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Plane_Rich(1) copy.jpg Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site

    International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses that fell from a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, trying to secure the sprawling site in hopes that a credible investigation can be conducted.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

School starts again in about two weeks. What do you think?

It's still summer. School starts too soon.
Seems like the right time to return.
Abolish summer recess. Make school year-round.
     View Results