When you are a victim of an aviation accident, receiving fair compensation can be extremely difficult. This is mainly because there are many complex legal and insurance factors that impose limits on the amount of compensation victims can obtain.
Understanding the following key limiting factors can help you navigate the challenging process of seeking compensation.
Legal Protections for Airlines
Airlines have strong legal protections that restrict the amount of compensation they must provide to accident victims:
Airlines only have limited liability for passenger death or injury under international treaties and domestic laws:
- Warsaw Convention (1929) – an early treaty that capped liability at $8,300 per passenger on international flights. This was seen as hugely insufficient even at the time, but airlines resisted any higher limits.
- Hague Protocol (1955) – amended the Warsaw Convention and raised the liability limit to $16,600 per passenger. This was still deemed inadequate compensation.
- Montreal Agreement (1966) – a private agreement signed by many major airlines that raised the cap further to $75,000 per passenger. This was still below-average losses.
- Guatemala City Protocol (1971) – updated Warsaw yet again to finally increase limits to $100,000 per passenger. This amendment failed to gain support.
- Montreal Protocols No. 3 & 4 (1975) – added to Warsaw and increased liability to $260,000 per passenger, but still did not appease victim groups.
- Warsaw Convention as Amended by Montreal Protocol No. 4 – caps liability at approximately $170,000 per passenger on international flights. It remains in force today as the current binding liability limit codified in most countries’ laws.
- Airline Deregulation Act (1978) – federal U.S. legislation that fully deregulates domestic air travel. It removes any caps on airline liability for passenger injury or death on domestic American flights. However, it also severely curtails the permissible grounds on which passengers can file lawsuits against airlines after accidents.
These evolving but generally low liability limits apply on international flights and most domestic routes unless victims can definitively prove willful misconduct by the airline under very narrow legal definitions. Demonstrating willful misconduct is extremely difficult and rarely succeeds in overriding caps, so compensation remains restricted.
Short Statutes of Limitations
Countries set strict deadlines limiting the timeframe in which victims have to file lawsuits against airlines after accidents:
- United States – 2 years from the date of the accident
- European Union – 2-3 years from the accident date depending on the precise claim
- Other countries can have limits as short as 60-90 days from crash
- The global average is 1-2 year limits across legal systems
Missing the short windows outlined by provisions of statutes of limitations eliminates any chance for victims to obtain compensation through legal action. The tiny timeframes make assembling all required documentation and legal support virtually impossible for many victims and families still reeling in the aftermath of crashes.
Restrictive Jurisdiction Rules
Complex laws dictating the permissible locations where victims can file lawsuits create additional hurdles:
- Warsaw Convention system – only allows suits to be brought in the country where the airline ticket was initially purchased from the carrier or in the country where the airline has its legal domicile. This is usually just one or two potential jurisdictions at most.
- Montreal Convention system – expands the number of possible countries victims may choose to file lawsuits in after accidents, but still only provides a limited set of options. Victims may sue in one of just eight restrictive jurisdictions – the passenger’s principal place of residence, the airline’s place of incorporation, the airline’s principal place of business, the flight’s origin point, the flight’s destination point, or the point where the passenger changed aircraft during transit.
- The U.S. Airline Deregulation Act has no explicit jurisdiction mandates, but precedent has largely fixed filed suits in the passenger’s home district or state.
This narrow targeting of permissible courts uniquely combined with very brief litigation windows means plaintiffs have extremely limited venues and opportunities to file successful legal claims. Choosing the wrong country to sue in leads to the full dismissal of claims without any airline liability.
Other Advantages for Airlines in Court
Beyond liability caps and technical limitations on lawsuits, legal precedent, and statutes often give airlines additional leverage in limiting payouts:
- Legal standards in the U.S., E.U., and elsewhere require accident victims to conclusively prove both direct injury/loss from the incident AND definite negligence/dangerous deficiencies by the airline that directly caused whatever damage was incurred. This dual burden of proof by plaintiffs makes winning cases extremely onerous. Airlines can raise doubts on either required showing to evade or reduce liability.
- The acts codifying airline liability for passenger harm universally designate courts in victims’ home countries as proper venues. But air travel by definition crosses borders. When foreign citizens are injured in crashes, airlines routinely dispute the impartiality and neutrality of “away” courts in other countries. They file objections that plaintiffs do not have legitimate standing to sue in those distant jurisdictions unfamiliar with applicable aviation laws. Judges often sustain such airline challenges, forcing cases to be refiled back to victims’ home countries. This adds cost, complexity, and delays.
- Domestic laws frequently include additional unique defenses airlines can assert to defray liability, such as the statute of repose provisions creating time limits beyond which carriers are categorically not responsible for issues or equipment defects originating even decades earlier. Airlines leverage arcane technical criteria like this to dispute accident fault.
- Global treaties standardly designate carrier liability for accidents be determined not under typical liability laws but according to the precise transport conventions and protocols in each jurisdiction. This forces victims to master obscure, evolving airline-specific legal codes almost always less favorable than standard personal injury rules. The complexity privileges airlines.
- Legal costs for protracted aviation lawsuits often run extremely high. Large upfront lawyer retainers and expensive expert testimony tend to deter individual victims from filing claims at all. And those able to press forward still face uncertain outcomes plus years of litigation delays.
Given the layers of liability limits, restrictive jurisdictional scope, plaintiff burdens of proof, airline defenses, and claim complexities, it is often advisable that victims of aviation accidents seek help from experienced and specialized aviation injury lawyers.
For example, to guarantee success as far as getting compensation from injuries related to the recent Alaska Airlines incident, anyone looking for an Alaska Airlines flight 1282 lawyer needs to ensure that all the lawyers that they are interviewing have extensive experience handling similar cases and that their practice is highly specialized in aviation injury law. This is because liability limit, jurisdictional scope, airline defense and claim complexities make it almost impossible for a general practitioner to achieve substantive legal victories as far as such cases are concerned.
The intricate workings of aviation insurance schemes also introduce barriers to obtaining full and fair compensation:
Low Mandatory Coverage Minimums
Airlines only need to hold limited minimum liability insurance coverage, far below likely total losses for major crashes:
- International carriers – $170,000 per passenger (aligning with Warsaw/Montreal caps)
- S. domestic carriers – $500,000 total per incident
- Foreign carriers serving America – $400,000 total per incident
In catastrophic crashes with hundreds of deaths and severe injuries, these nominal policy minimums mean insurance payouts must be divided exceedingly thin. Individual passenger compensation even at policy limits proves wholly inadequate relative to actual losses.
|Type of Carrier
|Minimum Coverage Required
|$170,000 per passenger
|$500,000 per incident
|Foreign Carriers in the U.S.
|$400,000 per incident
Insurance Release Conditions
Victims typically have to sign legal release forms absolving airlines and underwriters of all further liability related to the accident in order to claim offered insurance settlement payouts.
This strips them of options to later file lawsuits directly against insurers or carriers seeking additional compensation if and when tendered amounts prove insufficient given the full scope of losses. They get locked in.
Subrogation and Reclamation Rights
Aviation insurance policies universally allow insurers to fully recover costs already disbursed to victims when a third-party entity like an airplane or parts manufacturer is found legally liable for crash damages. This is called subrogation – reclaiming insurer costs from the negligent third party truly responsible.
Any damages later successfully attributed to and collected from liable component producers get directly credited back to reduce net insurance outlays. This lowers the ultimate victim payout.
Victims thereby are limited in the overall compensation they can obtain since deducted subrogation recoveries do not flow through to them. Only insurers benefit from reimbursed costs, keeping total payments limited.
Delays in Settlements
Complex crash investigations often take 12-18 months before definite causes get determined and legal liability can be assigned. However, insurance claims cannot be processed until final liability reports.
Hence victims face long gaps between the occurrence of accidents, filing of claims, and receipt of payouts. Cash flow delays exacerbate financial hardships.
Many death and injury elements common after aviation disasters prove wholly uninsured. Lost income, housework capacity, childcare contributions, psychological damages, and full policy limits for multiple family members injured per passenger are some typical exclusions.
Ambiguities in policy language frequently lead insurers to reject or reduce claim elements they argue fall outside clauses.
Other Complicating Factors
Several other recurring issues create still more troubles for victims seeking reasonable compensation through legal and insurance systems after aviation accidents:
Difficulties Proving Legal Liability
In complex major air incidents, definitively attributing clear legal blame can be extremely difficult:
- With hundreds of aircraft components and convoluted failure chains, technical crash investigations take months or years to pinpoint precise reasons. Reports remain inconclusive frequently.
- With sophisticated redundant aviation systems, defects often cannot be isolated to any singular cause — combinations of equipment faults, weather perils, pilot judgments, control software, maintenance errors and more tend to precipitate disasters. Spread responsibility dilutes liability.
- Manufacturers staunchly rebut crash inquiry findings that may implicate equipment problems. Victims face intensive legal/technical battles against aviation giants if they pursue accident payouts.
If legal fault cannot be conclusively assigned, victims have no entity from which to demand compensation for losses incurred. Proving liability is key.
Challenges Classifying Damages
Many common crash losses like pain and suffering, loss of companionship, trauma, diminished livelihood enjoyment, disruption of lifestyles, and even funeral costs demand substantial legal justification to qualify for court-ordered compensation or insurance reimbursements.
- Statutes allow only clearly defined categories of tangible losses, while intangible human damages remain excluded or minimized.
- Plaintiffs need to expend significant efforts and expenses documenting all tangible and intangible loss elements in lawsuits. Meeting stringent legal definitions for eligible harms drives up burdens.
Insurance policies also enumerate narrowly prescribed types of injuries covered – dismemberment, broken bones, 3rd degree burns constituting 30%+ of body, sight/hearing/speech loss. Anything less falls outside insurance. For example, non-visible spinal or brain injuries that still severely impact quality of life would fail to qualify for coverage.
Challenges Assessing Rightful Damages
The entire process of calculating appropriate and sufficient damages relies fundamentally on the victim’s ability to accurately measure and prove the full actual costs of all accident impacts:
- Plaintiffs must precisely estimate lifetime income loss, medical expenditures, rehabilitation spending, family assistance costs, etc in legal complaints.
- Justice courts then award dollar amounts matching submitted victim proofs. Any undercalculations permanently lower compensation.
- Insurance claims similarly require meticulous validation of every expense down to prescriptions, equipment rentals, and lost work days. Incomplete submissions risk inadequate payouts.
- Financial precision is unattainable for most victims struggling with crash turmoil. Missing legitimate costs is common.
Ambiguity in crash outcomes also heightens inaccurate damage measurement:
- Lifelong disabilities may impose huge lifetime costs, but measuring long-term impacts requires large forecast estimates courts often disallow as speculative. Victims thereby get undercompensated.
- Injuries healing slowly – back pain, PTSD, disfigurement – see early verdicts with no certainty that later resurgences will be accommodated. Victims eat further expenses the system misses.
Immense Litigation Complexities
Lawsuits seeking fair compensation through adversary court proceedings inherently impose immense financial and emotional costs on victims, which further limits net payments actually gained:
- Claimants need to retain specialized aviation trial lawyers from filing through appeals. Big starting retainers of $100,000+ must be pre-funded by already distraught families.
- Extensive technical expert testimony – frequently prohibited by caps on spending – is generally indispensable to counter intensive airline legal/investigation teams.
- Discovery and research to firmly establish legal culpability for crashes take years for plaintiff teams outgunned by aviation corporations.
- Repeated delays by defendants wear down claimant resolve and resources. Milestones like initial hearings, liability trials, and damages phases each reset case clocks – stretching years.
- Ultimately meager win rates, long delays in payments actually materializing even after settlements, and exhaustion of family savings & stability seriously undermine total viable compensation.
Absent very large loss amounts and access to ample funding, complex civil litigation proves simply an unrealistic mechanism for sufficient redress for most victims.
Possibilities of Defendant Bankruptcies
Both airlines directly and relevant third-party entities like aircraft manufacturers or traffic controllers can declare bankruptcy either on the heels of major crashes or during protracted liability litigation:
Bankruptcy automatically halts and voids pending compensation legal claims and payments. And so as proceedings unfold, all available assets get divided deficiently between all creditors – leaving negligible portions for pending accident liability settlements. Thus initially viable sources of legal restitution disappear fully upon bankruptcies.
The path towards obtaining fair restitution through the legal and insurance systems is filled with obstacles for victims of aviation accidents. Gaining a strong grasp of all prevalent factors that can substantially limit likely compensation is crucial before undertaking this long and arduous process. With extreme dedication and resilience, compensation may still be secured by a few, especially if they have experienced aviation injury attorneys by their side.