Under international treaties, German flag carrier Lufthansa could face huge compensation claims after one of its pilots apparently intentionally crashed an A320 into the Alps on Tuesday:
Under a treaty governing deaths and injuries aboard international flights, airlines are required to compensate relatives of victims for proven damages of up to a limit currently set at about $157,000 — regardless of what caused the crash.
To avoid liability, a carrier has to prove that the crash wasn't due to "negligence or other wrongful act" by its employees, according to Article 21 of the 1999 Montreal Convention.
That would be a difficult argument to make when a pilot intentionally crashes a plane into a mountain, and one that Lufthansa would likely avoid as it could further damage the brand, [German aviation lawyer Marco] Abate said.
Abate said that in German courts, damages for pain and suffering typically don't exceed 10,000 euros ($11,000). However, Lufthansa could face much bigger claims for loss of financial support. If the breadwinner of a family was killed in a plane crash, the survivors can sue for years of lost income, Abate said.
The difference between U.S. and European procedures might be a problem for Lufthansa. In the U.S., pilots are never left alone in the cockpit; in Europe—at least until this week—there was no comparable practice.