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International Accidents

International flights are flights that have an international stop printed on the ticket, even if the stop is not the origin or destination. Merely flying over international land would not make a flight international. Accidents and incidents must be reported to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) equivalent in the country where the accident happened. The NTSB itself will become involved in international airplane accidents if: the accident aircraft was registered in the U.S., if the type of aircraft was American built, or if a significant number of Americans were killed. Whichever agency(s) are involved with the investigation, they must abide by local authorities and applicable international agreements. 

Which international agreement will apply to an international airplane accident is dependent on what year the accident occurred and whether both countries involved have adopted the newest international agreement. The newest and most often used international agreement is the Montreal Convention. If one of the countries involved has not adopted the Montreal Convention (ratified in 2003), then the Warsaw Convention and supplements such as the Montreal Agreements are the controlling law. The applicable convention will establish in which country suit may be brought, which country’s law will govern the suit, and whether the suit will be barred. Under either Convention, the Plaintiff has two years from the date of the accident to file a cause of action.  

Generally speaking, treaties limit recovery for international flight accidents. That is because the treaties regulate liability for international flights. There are some exceptions, and injured passengers and next-of-kin have seen improved compensation over the years. The Montreal Convention is more consumer-friendly than the Warsaw Convention. Under the Montreal Convention, strict liability exists up to roughly $150,000 for proven injuries or death that occur while getting on the plane, being on the plane, or getting off the plane. Beyond the roughly $150,000 cut-off for strict liability, there is no limit on compensatory damages unless the airline can prove it was not negligent. 

Compensatory damages include things such as past, present, and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost income. Generally, emotional and mental injuries are not covered unless accompanied by physical injuries, as well. Punitive damages, meant as a punishment and as a means to make an example out of a wrong-doer, are not allowed under either convention.

Treaties like the Montreal Convention make international airplane accidents more complex than domestic airplane accidents. There are other laws that may also come into effect when dealing with international flight accidents. For instance, foreign countries may have sovereign immunity, meaning they are immune from certain lawsuits. Additionally, a country may not adhere to international treaties such as the Hague Convention, which makes gathering information about the accident particularly difficult. Also, if the aircraft accident occurred at sea versus on land, the Death on the High Seas Act may further change the outcome of the case. All in all, international airplane accidents are complex matters that require a skilled, experienced attorney to handle them properly. 


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