What are the legal rights of families who lose loved ones in
plane crashes overseas? It's a sad question that has
unfortunately come up several times in recent years, the latest
with the crash of the Germanwings plane in France.
Victoria Gallanders, travel law expert at Stacks Law Firm, says
rights following the death of passengers during international
carriage by plane are governed by international conventions.
"Which convention applies depends on the country of
departure and destination of the ticket - not the travel leg that
the death happened on, but the ticket in its entirety. For the
Germanwings crash, most if not all passengers would be covered by
the Montreal Convention of 1999."
Dependents of deceased passengers can seek compensation from the
airline for funeral expenses and loss of dependency. Ms Gallanders
says dependency is a calculation of the financial support and
domestic services the deceased would have provided dependents over
"Under Article 21 of the Montreal Convention, Germanwings
has to pay up to 100,000 Special Drawing Rights - an international
currency worth about $180,000 today - on a strict liability basis.
So long as the dependents can prove an economic loss, the airline
has to pay regardless of fault or negligence."
But Ms Gallanders said it is not unusual for loss of dependency
claims to go into the millions of dollars. The airline has to pay
the additional compensation unless they establish that the death
was not due to the negligence, wrongful act or omission of its
employees or agents. As the Germanwings co-pilot seems to have
deliberately crashed the plane the airline will have to pay out
There is a two year deadline to settle a claim against the
airline or commence court proceedings.
Under Article 33 of the Montreal Convention a dependent can take
court action in a choice of countries that are signatories -
generally the airline's home base, the country where the ticket
was bought, the destination of the ticket and the deceased's
Some jurisdictions offer more advantageous compensation laws
than others. For instance, many US states allow punitive damages.
This payout could be possible if it is proved the airline knew
about the co-pilot's mental condition and did nothing. UK
courts allows damages for bereavement. This is not possible in NSW.
If Germanwings is found guilty of a crime in French criminal
proceedings it could also open the door for additional
Where the victim of a plane crash has no income or no
dependents, such as a child, the amount that can be recovered by
the person's family will be less.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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