Singapore Airlines Flight 006
By Charles M. Finkel, Esq.
As can be seen by the recent crash of Singapore Airlines Flight 006, no matter how safe airline travel has become, there are occasional accidents which tragically alter the lives of innocent passengers and their families. It may be months before the causal chain of events leading to Flight 006’s explosive demise will be analyzed so that fault be determined. In the meantime, injured passengers, or the family members of those who perished in the flames, should know their rights.
The Warsaw Convention:
International air travel is governed by the Warsaw Convention, a treaty dating back to 1929 devised to protect the financial viability of the global airline industry, then in its infancy. Since its inception, the Warsaw Convention has acted to limit the liability of airlines engaged in international air travel. The Convention has been the bane of many crash victims and their families by often limiting financial recovery from the airlines to amounts far less than the true value of a case. However, in 1996 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) set forth a plan to increase the amount of damages available to international air travelers and their families. Almost all major airlines agreed that if they were proven negligent, their liability would be for the entire amount of damages allowable in the country in which the passenger resided, unless the airline could prove it took all necessary measures to prevent the accident.
The Montreal Convention:
In 1999, an entirely new treaty was drafted, which incorporated over seventy years of changes and modifications to the Warsaw Convention. When ratified it shall effectively change the rules of international aviation accident law. Most notably, the previous limitations on damages have disappeared. Article 17 of the Montreal Convention states a:
"carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking."
Under Article 21 of the Montreal Convention the airline is obligated to pay passengers or their family members up to 100,000 Special Drawing Rights, presently the equivalent of about $135,000 – $140,000 U.S.:
"1. For damages arising under paragraph 1 of Article 17 not exceeding 100,000 Special Drawing Rights for each passenger, the carrier shall not be able to exclude or limit its liability.
2. The carrier shall not be liable for damages arising under paragraph 1 of Article 17 to the extent that they exceed for each passenger 100,000 Special Drawing Rights if the carrier proves that:
(a) such damage was not due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of the carrier or its servants or agents; or
(b) damage was solely due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of a third party."
Thus, unless the airline can prove it was not negligent, or that others caused the accident, its liability is not limited as it previously was under the Warsaw Convention.
When Must a Lawsuit Be Brought:
Under the Convention, suit must be brought within two years of the accident.
Where Can a Lawsuit Be Filed:
Legal actions may be filed in one of the following places:
1. Where the airline has its principle place of business;
2. Where airline is incorporated;
3. Where the airline has a place of business through which the ticket was purchased;
4. Where the final destination on the ticket is located; or
5. Where the passenger has or had his or her principal and permanent residence at the time of the accident, provided the carrier provides service to that location with its own aircraft, or on another carrier’s aircraft pursuant to a commercial agreement.
What To Do After An Accident:
When it appears an airline is negligent, insurance company representatives will often attempt to negotiate directly with injured passengers, or the families of those who perished. It is not unusual to see this done soon after the accident and before those affected have had sufficient time to know the full nature and extent of their injuries, or for the families of those who died to appropriately mourn for their loved ones. It is best to take sufficient time to consider all options, and not rush to accept the offers made by the airline or its insurance representatives. It is always best to discuss the matter with experienced aviation litigation attorneys before finalizing any agreement with the airline or its insurance company.
Nor is it unusual to have attorneys flock to the scene of an airline accident in an effort to quickly sign up clients. While it is probably best to have an attorney working with passengers or their families, it is imperative that the attorneys have the background and experience necessary to deal with the airline and its insurance representatives so damage awards may be maximized.
(Charles M. Finkel is associated with the law firm MAGAÑA, CATHCART & McCARTHY. Mr. Finkel has been a pilot for 33 years, and has Airline Transport and Flight Instructor ratings. He has taught aviation law, and authored numerous articles on the subject. He has acted as attorney for injured passengers and their families on numerous major aviation accidents. MAGAÑA, CATHCART & McCARTHY’S experience has been gathered over decades of advocating victim’s rights. The firm has been involved in many landmark cases, including the first crashes of a 747, DC10, and the first fatal disaster of an MD11. Though success is not judged solely on the basis of monetary awards, the firm has obtained hundreds of multi-million dollar results for clients. Charles M. Finkel and MAGAÑA, CATHCART & McCARTHY have successfully represented clients on such notable cases as the China Eastern Airlines MD11 incident, the KAL 747 crash on Guam, the Egypt Air 767 crash, the crash of a Pakistan International Airline 767 in Nepal, and numerous other cases throughout the world)