Airplanes carry passengers from all over the world. On the Asiana airplane that crashed in San Francisco, there were 61 U.S. passengers, 77 South Korean passengers, and 141 Chinese passengers, as well as a smattering of passengers from other countries. More than 180 people were injured in this accident, including people from all different countries. Which raises the question: How will the passengers recover compensation for their injuries? Can they all bring lawsuits in the United States?
Unfortunately, for many passengers, the answer to the latter question is “no.” Under a 1999 international treaty called the Montreal Convention, there are a number of places where a person can bring a personal injury lawsuit after an international airplane accident, including:
- The airline’s principal place of business
- The location where the passenger purchased his or her ticket
- The passenger’s end destination
- The passenger’s place of residence
As you can see from the above list, the “place where the accident occurred” is not included. Therefore, some people who were injured in the Asiana airplane crash will not be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit in the United States. This includes non-Americans who purchased round trip tickets or whose end destination was not the United States.
Why does this matter? U.S. courts tend to offer much larger rewards than other forums. Two people with very similar injuries will receive much different awards if one brings a lawsuit in the U.S. and another brings a lawsuit in South Korea, for example. This is true simply because the court systems and laws are different in the two countries, not because Asiana will fight harder against lawsuits in one country than another. Asiana has already said it “feels strongly responsible” for the accident.
There is one constant under the Montreal Convention, however: Asiana is strictly liable for up to 131,100 special drawing rights, or approximately $138,000 in damages caused by the airplane accident. Therefore, any person with injuries over $138,000 will be able to recover at least that amount no matter what the forum.