KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 14 — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will be required to pay the family of each passenger of the missing flight MH370 up to US$150,000 (RM490,000) according to an international aviation convention, an aviation law expert said today.
In some cases, airlines do not even have to wait until a wreckage is found to start doling out compensation, as in the case of Air France which start paying out compensation just days after the its flight 447 disappeared of the coast of Brazil.
“The airline, even if it’s not responsible, is required to compensate the victims’ families,” Mike Danko, a California-based aviation attorney told American magazine Foreign Policy.
Danko had been involved with family of victims of the July 2013 Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco, who sued the airlines and consequently Boeing in January this year.
“The question, is how much,” said Danko.
The 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, which entered into force in 2003, entitles families to receive up to US$150,000, but it still case-specific.
The Indian government, for example, announced that families of May 2010 Air India Express flight 812 crash victims was liable up to US$160,000 for each passenger.
Meanwhile in the same year, Ethiopian Airlines only paid out US$20,000 per passenger to families of its flight 409 Beirut crash victims.
According to Danko, the payout will also be determined by whose law the suit was filed.
Under the Montreal Convention, families can file their damages suits in multiple countries, and families would usually choose the country where they have the highest chance to win the most expensive settlements, said Danko.
In the case of MH370, families may file their suits in Malaysia, where MAS is based; the victim’s country of origin; or the victim’s country of destination, which might not necessarily be Beijing.
Danko noted that this will in turn give an advantage to families who can bypass Malaysian and Chinese courts, especially the families of the nine European and three American passengers.
“In some countries, fair compensation for the loss of a son may be deemed to be US$20,000. In the United States, that may be millions of dollars … That is determined on where you bring suit,” said Danko.
Despite that, all families will be able to sue aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which built the missing 777 jet, in the US.
“Usually what happens are family members who are otherwise unable to bring suit against the airline will bring suit against the manufacturer,” Danko said, referring to an air crash in Brazil where the families sued US companies which operated the jet and made some of its safety equipment.
MAS had said it had offered “financial assistance” of 31,000 yuan (around RM16,000) to the family of each missing traveller from China.
It confirmed yesterday that the same amount has been offered to families of Malaysian passengers, and from other countries as well.
MH370 disappeared without sending any distress calls at 1.30am, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.