Your Rights After an Airplane Crash

Many questions exist in the aftermath of the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 last week, in which two people were killed and roughly 50 of the plane’s 307 passengers and crew were seriously injured.

What is known, according to reports, is that during a routine, clear-weather landing attempt at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the Boeing 777 smashed into a seawall during its runway approach hard enough to spread debris several hundred feet from where the plane was supposed to land.

Authorities have only just begun their investigation. Top to bottom, they will look into what caused the crash, as well as the internal and external safety factors that may have contributed to—or prevented, depending on how the investigation plays out—the passengers’ injuries. The experts will also look into the crew’s actions (or lack thereof) and, according to early reports, the pilot’s alleged lack of experience flying such a large aircraft.

While groups like the National Transportation Safety Board begin looking for answers, it may be time for airline passengers to ask some questions of their own, namely: What are my passenger rights?

According to a USA Today article published online, if an airline is found at fault for the crash of an international flight, under the Montreal Convention—the air carrier treaty adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization in 1999 to govern international flights—they are liable for up to 113,100 special “drawing rights” to which each passenger is entitled. “Drawing rights” are a monetary value established by the International Monetary Fund. Although the value of drawing rights changes regularly, it means an airline can be liable for up to $170,000 (American) for each passenger in the event of an accident.

Under the Montreal Convention, although they may not be the only party at fault for a crash, the airline would be liable for economic and non-economic damages in a lawsuit brought by a victim. While other defendants in an airplane crash lawsuit could include the jet manufacturer, pilot, or an air traffic controller in the event of gross human error, airlines cannot totally abdicate the brunt of responsibility after a crash.

Although there have been international laws that limit what plane crash victims can recover after an accident, there are currently no limitations on passenger recovery unless an airline can prove that it did everything in its power to avoid the accident. Summarily, in a lawsuit filed by a passenger after a crash, the burden of proof rests with the airline to prove they undertook every precaution possible to prevent the crash.

After a plane crash, a passenger has the right to contact a lawyer immediately. However, under U.S. federal law, firms may not reach out to potential clients themselves for at least 45 days after an accident. Additionally, lawsuits filed after a plane crash can involve many passengers. For this reason, it is not uncommon that cases end up in a multi-district litigation to save time and resources for the courts and everyone involved.