Families of Russian plane victims may take legal action against airport if poor security proven, expert says

Hana Afifi , Wednesday 18 Nov 2015

The Egyptian government, which said it would consider Russian findings that a bomb killed all 224 on Airbus A-321, maintains talk of compensation before final conclusions on causes is premature

File Photo: Relatives react after a Russian airliner with 217 passengers and seven crew aboard crashed, as people gather at Russian airline Oct. 31, 2015 (AP)

Russian families may take legal action against Sharm El-Sheikh Airport if it is proven that poor security procedures led to the planting of a bomb which could have brought down a Russian airliner in October, James Healy-Pratt, specialist in airline disasters and aviation accidents, told Ahram Online.

Such legal action may take place “if there is evidence that the security screening services were negligent in permitting an explosive device onto the Metrojet aircraft,” the New York based attorney and aviation law arbitrator Healy-Pratt said.

Egypt’s prime minister said Tuesday that compensation by Egypt for the families is “out of the question,” given that the Egyptian investigative committee has not yet issued its final report.

Russia claimed on Tuesday that a bomb brought down the Russian airliner that crashed in central Sinai, killing all 224 people on board on 31 October, 214 Russian passengers, three Ukranian passengers, and seven crew members.

Egypt’s prime minister said Egypt will take the Russian findings into consideration.

Egypt’s civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said the Egyptian-led investigative committee, which includes Russian representatives, has not found any proof that a “criminal act” caused the crash. 

A source at Egypt’s civil aviation ministry told Ahram Online that talk about compensation cannot start before the investigations are complete, explaining that all scenarios are possible, since the crash could have been caused by a technical failure.

The aviation ministry source added that he is not sure if Sharm Airport has a contract with an insurance company, but that, even if compensation was required, the payout would typically be made by the government.

Reuters had reported Tuesday that Sharm Airport sources said two employees are wanted by the authorities since they are suspected of leaving a baggage-scanning machine unattended for some time while passengers were boarding.

However, Egypt denied any arrest warrants for any airport personnel exist.

Still, Egypt has stepped up security procedures at airports.

Egypt’s interior ministry said new security procedures have been implemented at all Egyptian airports, including revising inspection procedures for passengers, luggage airport workers, vehicles, and drivers at the airport.

“No amount of compensation will ever bring a loved one back to their families. Compensation in aviation cases is still far from equal, and the value of a life is valued very differently by separate legal systems across the globe,” Healy-Pratt said.

Regardless of whether families would receive compensation from Egypt, if applicable, they may make claims against Russian Metrojet airline.

The civil aviation ministry source told Ahram Online that an English insurance company that covers the Russian airline Metrojet inspected the scene of the crash.

Healy-Pratt said, “Metrojet has aviation insurance of around $750 million for a crash of this type. The aviation insurance is led in London by Allianz Global Corporate Specialty, and London lawyers have been instructed by Allianz to deal with claims from the Russian families.”

The attorney added that the claims for compensatory damages by Russian families will be made under the Montreal Convention.

The Montreal Convention signed in 1999, previously known as The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, is an international treaty signed by 105 countries, including Egypt, which makes the airliner liable if it is found culpabable in an accident and stipulates rights for the victims or their families.

Healy-Pratt added that Metrojet’s insurance company Allianz will try to limit the amount of compensation for every life to around $136,000, an amount that Russian families’ claims might typically exceed.

Russia is being sued by families of the victims of the crash of  the Malaysian Airlines Flight  MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014 since a Russian-made surface-to-air missile brought it down. Many of the families of the victims in this case are represented by London Stewarts Law LLP.

The families “are making claims against Malaysian Airlines and their London Aviation Insurers, as well as seeking justice in the UN and the US courts against those responsible for the shoot down and the loss of 290 lives,” Healy-Pratt said.

Back in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 crashed in Scotland as the result of a bomb manufactured by Libyans spies. The crash killed 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground.

Healy-Pratt said the families of Pan Am 103 "were successful in getting an average compensation of over $2 million per family over 20 years ago. They then went on to challenge Libyan government involvement, and a further $10 million per life was negotiated with the Libyan government."

In 1990, The British Civil Aviation Authority concluded that an explosive device brought the plane down. The $10 million compensation was paid by the Libyan president in installments between 2004 and 2008.

As for the $2 million compensation, it was paid only by Pan Am airline insurers, not by London's Heathrow Airport, where the plane took off.

Laws regarding US jurisdiction were different in 1988, requiring Pan Am, which took control of the baggage security chain, to be deemed the only one responsible for the security of the plane, Healy-Pratt said.

According to international aviation protocol, the Egyptian government is the only official entity mandated to release a final report on the causes of the crash.


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