In the wake of the recent Asiana Airlines crash, experts are saying the airplane company will likely employ a variety of international legal tactics to save itself potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with injured passengers.
The crash of Asiana Flight 240 at San Francisco International Airport opened up the South Korean carrier to potentially enormous legal liability. The July 6th accident killed two teenagers from China and injured 181 of the 307 other passengers on board. Of those on the plane, 141 passengers were from China, 77 were from South Korea and 61 were Americans. Though it may seem immaterial, these geographic breakdowns could end up figuring prominently into any eventual financial settlements.
Experts familiar with the industry say they believe Asiana will use the Montreal Convention, a piece of international airline law, to argue that the Chinese and South Korean passengers must file claims for damages in their home countries. The airline will likely claim that because those passengers’ ultimate destinations were overseas (given that most everyone had round-trip tickets), that is where the legal claims should be filed.
You might be thinking that an injury claim is an injury claim, regardless of the country that hears the case. If so, you’d be wrong. As many in the industry understatedly put it, the U.S. is known the world over for its generous judicial system and there are currently no caps on payouts for wrongful death or injury in California. In comparison, Chinese and South Korean court awards are substantially more limited in the money handed out to injured victims.
The worries about runaway expenses are a genuine concern if other recent airplane crashes are any indication. In the most recent U.S. plane crash prior to Flight 214, the crash of Colgan Flight 3407, 50 passengers and crew and one person on the ground died. Families of the victims sued the airline for more than $900 million.
Though no one can say with any certainty how much each of the Asiana cases will be worth in settlement dollars, most claims will be substantial and likely somewhere in the seven figures for those who are able to have their claims heard in the U.S. Most experts say they estimate that the jurisdiction fight could save Asiana several hundred million dollars if they are successful.