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Asiana Crash: Compensation After International Airplane Accidents

Craig McClellan

We have been discussing the Asiana airplane accident, including liability and injuries. But one large question remains: How will the injured and the families of the three girls who passed away recover compensation for the commercial airline accident? Where can they sue Asiana Airlines and anyone else accountable for the accident?

Compensation for oversees airplane accidents is governed by an international treaty, the Montreal Convention. Under the Convention, adopted in 1999, airline companies are strictly liable for damages up to approximately $138,000 per passenger. All damages in excess of that amount fall under a negligence standard, which means the airline can dispute that its negligence caused the additional damages.

Yet, not all airplane accident passengers will receive the same amount of compensation, even if they have similar injuries. The reason? According to flight records, there were 141 Chinese, 64 Americans, 77 South Koreans and at least five people from other countries on the airplane. The Americans on the airplane should have no trouble bringing lawsuits in the U.S., but other injured individuals may need to fight to get into U.S. courts.

Under the Montreal Treaty, international passengers can seek damages in one of five places: Their country of residence, the place where their ticket was issued, the air carrier's home base, the air carrier's principal place of business and the passengers' final destination. If passengers from China carried a round-trip ticket back to China, they will have difficulty pursuing personal injury claims in U.S. courts.

This is important because the forum will play a significant role in determining how much compensation an injured person will receive.

For example, the typical child wrongful death case in the U.S. can reach well into the millions of dollars. In South Korea, when an airplane crashed in Guam and killed five family members, a South Korean court only ordered the airline to pay $510,000 for those deaths. In fact, according to an attorney who represented the victims in that Korean Air Lines crash, those who brought lawsuits in the U.S. "settled for as much as 100 times more than those who sued in South Korea."

Fair? Certainly not. But until the Convention is changed, international airplane accident victims will continue to face disparate treatment.