Lawyer: Germanwings victims’ families could see ‘vastly’ different payouts

World Today

Flags representing different nations are deployed during an homage ceremony with family members of victims in front of a stele, a stone slab erected as a monument, set up in memory of the victims in the area where the Germanwings jetliner crashed in the French Alps, in Le Vernet, France, Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Families of those killed aboard the Germanwings flight are likely to receive vastly different payouts depending on their nationality and where they bought the ticket, even though they all shared the same fate, a German aviation lawyer said on Wednesday.

“In the U.S., it would be at least $1 million (compensation), at least. Besides all the other things that have been paid for,” Elmar Giemulla, an honorary professor of aviation law at Berlin’s Institute of Technology and retired professor of administrative law, said.

“In Europe, we are in the range of 100,000” euros, Giemulla said, who has been approached by a family of one of the school children killed in the crash who came from the German town of Haltern am See.

Claims can be made either where the ticket was purchased, in the home country of the airline, at courts in the passenger’s destination, or in the passenger’s home country.

But in air crashes, the amounts awarded for pain and suffering vary by country, with victims from the United States tending to receive higher payouts, followed by Europeans and Asians.

“And the emotional losses are compensated with very high awards. So the American passengers, given the fact that Lufthansa maybe has acted faulty regarding this pilot, these awards I anticipate will be very high,” Giemulla said. “And it can even be the case that an American judge awards so-called punitive damage, depending of course on the fact how grave this judge sees he fault of Lufthansa.”

In Germany, damages are calculated based on the victim’s lost earnings and other financial consequences of the loss, and there is typically no separate award for pain and suffering, Giemulla said.

“The problem in our German legal system is that our law does not accept the so called emotional damage which means that Lufthansa is not obliged, legally not obliged, to pay for this. They are only obliged to compensate for the financial losses, which are funeral costs or travel costs to a meeting or whatever it is,” he said. “But there is the real loss which has been caused by this accident, not only the physical lives of the passengers have been destroyed but also the lives of the survivors. They have to get back to normal life, they have to work on it, and maybe they do not succeed. So this is something which is not accepted – surprisingly maybe – by our legal system.”

With many claims therefore likely to be based mainly on financial considerations, this means that revelations by Lufthansa that its flight school knew of pilot Andreas Lubitz’s depression are unlikely to affect outcomes in many countries apart from the United States.

The 144 passengers on the plane came from 18 different countries, Germanwings has said. The majority were from Germany and Spain, while three were from the United States.

Insurance industry sources have said that insurers would stick with their liability policies for Lufthansa and Germanwings, even though the airline said it was aware that Lubitz had gone through a period of severe depression.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said on Wednesday that the airline would provide assistance to the families of those killed “for as long as help is needed,” said Giemulla.

“In my opinion, Lufthansa should be open to the survivors when they stress this point. It cannot be accepted, morally nor from a point of view of the reputation of Lufthansa that Lufthansa denies completely that there is compensation for moral damage.”

Germany’s Allianz, which is coordinating the insurance response, said on Wednesday that all claims arising from the crash would be handled fully, fairly and as quickly as possible.

The insurer’s preliminary estimate for the total cost of the crash is $300 million but it has said the figure could change as new information became available.

Reporting by Reuters