The crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 with no survivors is a tragedy.
If Malaysia Airlines ignored warnings and did not take sufficient care when flying through the area, grieving families of victims may have grounds to sue the airline for compensation, says Bree Knoester, partner at Adviceline Injury Lawyers.
Current reports indicate that on 14 July 2014 the airspace above Ukraine was closed for flights below 32,000 feet. This appears to have been in response to two military aircraft being shot down and a third aircraft being damaged in that flight zone above southern Ukraine.
It is also reported that Qantas changed its flight path several months ago to avoid the area.
If an airline ignores such warnings and still flies over an area known to be dangerous, this raises questions of negligence. There are reports in the media that some airlines, to save on fuel costs, have kept flying in the flight zone above the Ukraine despite the warnings from air control authorities. If such allegations can be proven against Malaysian Airlines, it would seem to be a strong basis for issuing court proceedings.
There are basic entitlements paid to families of passengers who die in such plane crashes - irrespective of whether anyone is at fault. This is provided for under the Civil Aviation (Carriers Liability) Act Cth 1959 and the Montreal Convention 1999 which provides that an airline must pay compensation for the death of a passenger without the passenger's surviving family needing to prove fault on the part of the airline. The amount that can be recovered is up to 113,100 'special drawing rights' which is approximately $195,000AUD.
However, unlimited damages above $195,000AUD may be awarded if the deaths arise from the negligence of the airline.
The families of the Australians who have died in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash may also have recourse to compensation under Australian consumer law. In all cases, if compensation is sought, these cases will be able to be brought in Australian courts.
This area of law is complex and has undergone recent changes. In the past, airlines were often quick to try and settle claims brought by families early. It is important that families are not pressured to accept offers of compensation without being properly advised on whether this tragedy occurred due to the negligence of Malaysian Airlines and until they are made fully aware of their legal entitlements.
It is a tragic day for all families. But even more tragic if this terrible accident could have been avoided.
If you have any queries about this area of law, we invite you to contact Bree Knoester from Adviceline Injury Lawyers on (03) 9321 9723.