This aviation planning case involves a 747 aircraft that was carrying 269 passengers on an international flight from the United States to Asia. The pilots of the plane failed to program the plane’s inertial navigation and radar system properly. Because of this, the plane deviated from its plotted course and strayed into a foreign territory. When foreign officials detected the airplane, they fired several heat-seeking missiles at the plane. The exploding missiles damaged the plane’s hydraulic systems and caused rapid cabin decompression. The plane went into a downward spiral and slammed into the sea. All 269 passengers and crew were killed in the crash. The political climate between the United States and the foreign territory was widely known to be “cold” and a government agency had previously issued navigation charts that had a warning that aircraft infringing on the foreign territory might be fired on without warning. The survivors of several passengers filed a wrongful death suit against the airline claiming that the airplane’s crew was negligent in not following mandated aviation regulations and navigational procedures, causing the crash. Expert witnesses with specializations in aviation appraisal, aviation safety, and aerospace engineering were sought to opine on the issue.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Can survivors of passengers killed in a plane crash bring a wrongful death claim against an airline if the plane’s crew allowed the plane to veer off course and this caused a crash?
Expert Witness Response
Under the Warsaw Convention, an international air carrier may be liable for the harm to passengers, baggage, or goods in a claim arising out of international air carriage. According to Article 25 of the Warsaw Convention, an airline may be liable to the survivors of passengers killed on an international flight if the airline committed “willful misconduct” that led to a plane crash. Willful misconduct is usually defined as the intentional violation of safety rules and regulations by a plane’s crew, done with the knowledge that the violation is likely to cause injury to passengers on the plane. In this case, the survivors of the passengers killed in the crash can probably bring a wrongful death suit against the airline because the flight crew was negligent in not using the proper navigation procedures to ensure that the plane stayed on its proper path throughout the flight. Also, since the crew knew that flying over the foreign territory might cause the plane to get fired on by the foreign government, they were probably negligent in ignoring the risk of a shoot down. Since the crew allowed the plane to stray from its planned track and this caused it to get shot down, the survivors could probably bring a suit under the Warsaw Convention.