San Francisco: The potential compensation payouts for people aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214 will probably be very different for Americans and passengers from other countries, even if they were seated side by side as the South Korean jetliner crash-landed.
An international treaty governs compensation to passengers harmed by international air travel. The pact is likely to close US courts to many foreigners and force them to pursue their claims in Asia and elsewhere, where lawsuits are rarer, harder to win and offer smaller payouts.
Some passengers have already contacted lawyers.
"If you are a US citizen, there will be no problem getting into US courts. The other people are going to have a fight on their hands," said California attorney Frank Pitre, who represents two Americans who were aboard the plane.
The flight that broke apart July 6 at the San Francisco airport was carrying 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64 Americans, three Canadians, three Indians, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one person from France when it approached the runway too low and too slow. The Boeing 777 hit a seawall before skidding across the tarmac and catching fire.
Three teenage girls from China were killed and 182 people injured, most not seriously.
Two girls, Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both 16, died right away. It is unclear whether Ye died in the crash or in the chaotic aftermath. The other victim killed, 15-year-old Liu Yipeng, died Friday at a hospital where she had been in critical condition since the crash.
The dozens who were seriously injured especially the few who were paralyzed can expect to win multimillion-dollar legal settlements, as long as their claims are filed in US courts, legal experts said.
California attorney Mike Danko, who is consulting with several lawyers from Asia about the disaster, said any passenger who was left a quadriplegic can expect settlements close to USD 10 million if the case is filed in the United States. Deaths of children, meanwhile, may fetch around USD 5 million to USD 10 million depending on the circumstances in US courts.
In other countries, Danko explained, the same claims could be worth far less.
In 2001, a South Korean court ordered Korean Air Lines to pay USD 510,000 to a woman whose daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons were killed in a 1997 crash in the US territory of Guam that killed 228 people.
Broken bones in plane accidents usually mean USD 1 million settlements in the Unites States and in the low five-figure range overseas, Danko said.
In 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration put the value of a human life at USD 6 million. But again, Danko said, that estimate applies only in US courts. Foreign courts can be expected to pay far smaller settlements.
In all, the South Korean government agency that regulates that country`s insurance industry expects Asiana`s insurers to pay out about USD 175.5 million total USD 131 million to replace the plane and another USD 44.5 million to passengers and the city of San Francisco for damage to the airport.
Suh Chang-suk, an official at Financial Supervisory Service, declined to discuss how the watchdog agency calculated its estimate.