July 11, 2013 — Asiana Airlines could be facing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from victims of the Flight 214 plane crash at SFO — but only if they file lawsuits in the United States. Bloomberg predicts that Asiana will attempt to prevent non-American citizens from filing lawsuits in San Francisco, where they would likely receive significantly more compensation than they will in China and South Korea.
Under an international treaty called the Montreal Convention, passengers on international flights are limited to about $170,000 in damages for plane crash lawsuits. The airline may argue that the Convention applies to passengers with round-trip tickets outside the United States. Any lawsuits in the U.S. will likely be filed in a federal court in San Francisco, where they could be awarded millions in damages. The cases could go to trial or reach settlements out of court.
There were 307 passengers on the flight, including 61 Americans, 141 people from China and South Korea, and more than 100 people from other countries. About 180 people were injured when the plane crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport (SF) on July 6. Dozens were hospitalized with severe injuries, five people remain in critical condition, and two 16 year-old girls from China were killed.
Although no one knows exactly what caused the crash, it is clear that the pilot approached the runway too slowly and hit a sea-wall, which ripped off the plane’s landing gear and tail before skidding to a stop and catching on fire. The pilot was still in training and had only 43 hours of experience with the Boeing 777. He had never landed at SFO before. The airport’s electronic landing assistance was turned off for maintenance, which required the pilot to land visually. If investigations point to pilot error as the cause of the crash, lawsuits may fall under the Montreal Convention. If mechanical failure or the airport is partially to blame, lawsuits could be filed in the U.S.
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