Even If Shot Down, Airlines Still Responsible

Now that the dust is beginning to settle after Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, the process of compensating the victims’ families for their losses is getting underway. Although Malaysia Airlines has been making $50,000 payments to victims’ families, Officials in the Netherlands — where the majority of the victims were from — say that the goodwill payments aren’t likely to discourage some families from seeking the $174,000 they’re promised under an international treaty.

Even when commercial aviation was in its infancy, international agreements governed crash victims’ compensation in a no-fault system. The airlines would pay a standard amount of compensation, even when they weren’t at fault. If the airline or another party was negligent, then the family could sue for more, according to the Montreal Convention treaty.

Since it’d be almost impossible to collect damages from the pro-Russian rebels accused of shooting the flight down, Malaysia Airlines is left as the prime — if only — defendant.

On the one hand, Malaysian officials have said that international aviation authorities deemed the route over eastern Ukraine safe, noting that other airlines also continued to fly the same exact route, even on the same day that Flight 17 was shot down.

On the other hand, some aviation lawyers say that there’s a strong case. They argue that Malaysia Airlines should have stopped routing flights over eastern Ukraine when rebels began shooting down military flights earlier in the month.

“The idea that somebody else was equally as stupid as they were is not that good of an argument,” said New York-based personal injury lawyer Jonathan Reiter.

Considering how poorly the airline is doing after the recent string of tragedies, the potential lawsuits could spell disaster.

“The southeast Asia air carrier burns its cash reserves at nearly $2.16 million each day,” said Oliver McGee, a Howard University professor. “Operations are losing about $1.6 million a day.”

If families do choose to seek further compensation, Malaysia Airlines may be brought to its knees.

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