With the Malaysian government’s announcement that Flight 370 tragically crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, the victims’ families may finally find some amount of closure.
In addition to dealing with their personal grief, those family members will likely file lawsuits as they seek restitution from the parties they believe to be responsible for their loss.
It’s almost inevitable that the legal fallout from Malaysia 370 will be incredibly complex, encompassing many parties and jurisdictions. As it stands, Flight 370 involves an American plane, British-made engines, a Malaysian airline, and victims from 15 different nations and regions
In an interview with Business Insider, leading aviation attorney Brian Alexander of Kreindler & Kreindler gave us some insight into what the victims’ families may encounter in the coming weeks and months.
For many, it will depend on where the passengers purchased their airline tickets, Alexander said, adding it was very likely that some of the lawsuits resulting from this crash would be filed in the U.S.
“The contract of carriage [ticket] will, in most cases, determine whether a passenger can proceed [legally] against the carrier in the United States or elsewhere,” Alexander said. “We expect there will be some passengers who can bring claims against Malaysian Airlines in the United States, and others who may not be able to do so under the treaty,” said Alexander, referring to an international treaty that governs claims arising from accidents that occur during international air travel.
In other words, where passengers are from and where they purchased their tickets will help determine where they will file their lawsuits. For example, if passengers are from America, or purchased their tickets in the U.S., then it may be possible for the passengers to file suit there.
For many foreign plaintiffs, the U.S. courts offer a more developed tort law system along with levels of judicial transparency that may not exist in their homeland. The American court system also offers foreign plaintiffs an effective means to enforce potential legal judgments, making it a more desirable place to lodge their claims.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, it is possible victims may still choose to sue the aircraft’s manufacturer, Boeing. Since the 777 is a product of Washington state, American courts may also hear those cases.
“Although we have no credible information on the cause at this time, if it is determined that a mechanical or design issue is the cause or a contributing factor to the crash, then claims will likely be brought against the aircraft manufacturer or a component manufacturer here in the United States,” Alexander told Business Insider.
Should the victims’ families be successful in their lawsuits, the economic and non-economic damages will vary greatly from person to person and country to country. Economic damages account for the victim’s loss of future income and cost of supporting surviving dependents. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, account for the loss of future guidance, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.
Malaysia Airlines did not respond to Business Insider’s request for further comment, while Boeing declined to comment on the issue.
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