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Compensation for air crash victims

June 21, 2012


THE most important aspect of any air crash is payment of compensation to victims’ families. But even on this, the CAA acts as a silent spectator, if not accomplice, which amounts to collusive procrastination.

Instead of paying to each crash victim’s family according to social and economic worth of the victims, the air carrier or other vested interest elements manipulate to connive with the insurers to pay the least possible amount of compensation.

The golden canons of quantum of compensation adjudicated by superior courts under Fata Accidents Act may be adopted mutatis mutandis. Now that a new law of Carriage by Air Act 2012 has been promulgated, it has fixed an obligatory minimum compensation for a domestic passenger at Rs5 million.

Some of the Fokker crash victims are still crying for justice in different courts even after a passage of six years where even interlocutory threshold is not over.

In Pakistan Carriage by Air Act 2012 stipulates particular minimum amount that the air carrier is bound to pay to the family of the air crash victim even if it is at no fault. The liability in case of carrier’s fault may be even higher.

The limit of liability for an international passenger is almost three times more than that of a domestic passenger. This is discriminating among human lives.

Many countries around the world have enforced such laws in domestic air travel regime on the pattern of international travel.

For example, in Australia modified Warsaw rules have been made applicable to domestic travel where limits of carrier’s liability are set at 500,000 Australian dollars per passenger and the carrier has no ‘all necessary measures’ defence.

UK and all European countries have applied Montreal convention to domestic and international travel. Turkey has kept Warsaw convention applicable to domestic travel. The US has fixed liability in case of domestic travel. It is of interest that Pakistani airlines apropos of travelling to destinations abroad continue to comply with laws of countries to where they fly.

They readily tend to sign undertakings to comply with the IATA system of compliance and licensing. But they continue to discriminate against their own countrymen in case of domestic travel regarding compensation in case of air crash.

It is somewhat more paradoxical to point out that the compensation for loss of dependency in respect of each travelling passenger is insured and payment on account of payable premium is made rather by the passenger when he buys ticket. This is how airlines do not suffer losses in the event of a plane crash. It is only in Pakistan that families continue to suffer for want of a law to enforce their rights.

The chief justice is requested to also promulgate an order for expeditious conclusion of suits arising out of air crashes within six months preferably in the matters concerning widows on compassionate grounds.

The same rule may apply to other cases of fatal accidents where payment of compensation is a statutory requirement with a prescribed deadline instead of delaying of more than 10 years which would nullify the rationale for quick dispensation of justice.