Asiana plane crash

Payouts over Asiana disaster will be bigger if dealt with by courts in the US

Payouts over Asiana disaster will be much bigger if dealt with by courts in the US

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 3:30am

The potential compensation for people aboard Asiana Airlines flight 214 will probably be very different for Americans and passengers from other countries, even if they were seated side by side as the South Korean jet crash-landed.

An international treaty governs compensation to passengers harmed by international air travel. The pact is likely to close US 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.

The treaty 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.

Some passengers have already contacted lawyers.

"If you are a US citizen, there will be no problem getting into US courts. The other people are going to have a fight on their hands," said California lawyer Frank Pitre, who represents two Americans aboard the plane.

The flight that broke apart on July 6 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 skidding across the tarmac and catching fire.

Three teenage girls from China were killed and 182 people injured, most not seriously.

Two girls, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both 16, died right away. It is unclear whether Ye died in the crash or in the chaotic aftermath. The other victim killed, 15-year-old Liu Yipeng, died on Friday.

The dozens who were seriously injured - especially the few who were paralysed - can expect to win multimillion-dollar legal settlements, as long as their claims are filed in US courts, legal experts say.

Californian lawyer Mike Danko, who is consulting with several lawyers from Asia about the disaster, said any passenger who was left a quadriplegic could expect close to US$10 million if the case was filed in the United States.

Deaths of children, meanwhile, may bring US$5 million to US$10 million in US courts, depending on the circumstances.

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

Broken bones in plane accidents usually mean US$1 million settlements in the United States and in the low five-figure range overseas.

In 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration put the value of a human life at US$6 million. But again, Danko said, that estimate applied only in US courts. Foreign courts could 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 US$175 million total - US$131 million to replace the plane and US$44.5 million to passengers and the city of San Francisco for damage to the airport.


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