Air India to appeal over payout to crash victims' families

Air India has decided to appeal against a Kerala high court order to pay Dh618,000 to each family of the 158 people who died in the Mangalore disaster last year.
The Air India express flight from Dubai overshot the runway while landing in Mangalore on May 22 last year, killing 158 people.
The Air India express flight from Dubai overshot the runway while landing in Mangalore on May 22 last year, killing 158 people.

DUBAI // Air India will appeal against a court order to pay at least 7.5 million rupees (Dh618,000) to each family of the 158 victims of the Mangalore air crash, a senior lawyer said yesterday.

HD Nanavati said the legal firm representing the airline and the insurers was appealing against last month's Kerala High Court ruling, even though a government minister had welcomed the verdict.

Only eight people survived of 160 passengers and six crew on board the Air India Express Flight 812 from Dubai when the plane overshot the runway while landing in Mangalore, India, on May 22 last year. Dozens of families in India and the UAE have been waiting for more than a year for compensation from the airline.

In Dubai, relatives said they would fight to the end.

"We are disappointed that the judgment will be appealed, despite the minister's assurances," said Biju Thekkeveettil, a Dubai-based engineer who lost his parents in the crash. "Once this goes to appeal, justice will be delayed to us. We will fight to the end, no matter what."

Mr Kodoth Sridharan, a lawyer for one of the relatives, said he had anticipated Air India's appeal. "This is a calculated attempt by the airline to help the insurance companies prolong the payout," he said.

Mr Nanavati, a partner at the Mumbai-based Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe, said the appeal would be heard in the same court by a division bench of judges.

“Our clients have instructed us to prefer an appeal against the court judgment and we are accordingly in the process of doing so,” he said.

“We are appealing because in our view it was not a correct interpretation of the [Montreal] convention. A wrong precedent should not be set. It would create international repercussions.”

The Kerala court ruling was the country’s first judgment dealing with the Montreal Convention, which India has signed and ratified.

Under the convention, without the need for negligence to be proven, airlines are liable for damages payable in Special Drawing Rights (SDR), a mixture of currency values established by the IMF.

Families in Dubai and India expressed disappointment over the news. The decision to appeal is at odds with an Indian government statement last month welcoming the court order.

Vayalar Ravi, India’s civil aviation and overseas affairs minister, directed Air India to expedite the payment when the verdict was reached last month. Mr Ravi could not immediately be reached for comment yesterday.

In India, families also prepared for a struggle.

“The judgment set a precedent for poor victims like us,” said Abdul Salam, who filed the Kerala case after losing his son, Mohammed Rafi, 24, in the crash.

“We are confident that we’ll get a similar judgment and the courts will rule in our favour. We have struggled to get justice and we are prepared to continue this.”

Mr Sridharan, his lawyer, added: “We are confident that the Indian judiciary will rise to the occasion. We are optimistic that the courts will not permit this.”

Immediately after the crash Air India appointed the law firm, ostensibly to handle final compensation amounts on an individual basis with families. The firm’s representatives have held regular settlement talks in Mangalore with victims’ families, including relatives from Dubai.

The total compensation paid so far is 509.6 million rupees towards the cases of 68 passengers. Another three cases are awaiting settlement, Mr Nanavati said.

Of the eight survivors, the claims of six of them have been settled. A revision is unlikely once a settlement has been reached.

Mr Nanavati said the appeal was based on the legal position that the compensation, as per the Montreal Convention, must be worked out on a “proof of loss basis” whether it was more or less than 100,000 SDR.

“The long and short of it is that there is no minimum figure of compensation to be paid,” he said.

“The basic principle is that the amount we are to pay is according to the actual financial loss sustained. The figure paid must represent the actual loss in terms of number of family members, their income. That’s the basic principle.”

The survivors of the crash have variously confirmed that they have received settlements ranging from 600,000 rupees to 4.5 million rupees.

While Mr Nanavati declined to confirm individual amounts, he said there were cases in which the settlements were in excess of the amount the court had ordered for each family.

“The facts of each case have to be taken into consideration and it is for this reason that in some cases the amount paid is less than 100,000 SDRs, whereas in others it works to more than that figure,” he said.

“We are always willing to talk again to the parties and consider any further material produced, but there is no question of revision after a full and final settlement and payment.”

Published: August 4, 2011 04:00 AM


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