Dana Crash site
By Chinedu Eze
Speculation is mounting in the aviation sector that lawyers are inciting the relatives of the victims of the June 3, 2012 Dana Air flight 0992 crash in Lagos, which killed 153 people on board for higher compensation.
There is also an allegation that the lawyers are aiming for a long-drawn legal battle that may last longer than the period of time Dana Air insurers will be obligated to pay compensation, and not without huge legal fees.
Although from the emotional and human angle, no amount of money can replace a loved one who gruesomely died in a plane crash, but the relatives of the dead at the various fora had canvassed for higher compensation. Many other Nigerians, besides these people who lost their dear ones, share the same feeling that the compensation of $100,000 is not enough.
The 2006 Civil Aviation Act states the minimum liability limits set for airlines operating within Nigeria as stipulated in the Second and Third Scheduled of the Act.
According to the Act, “The following liability limits shall apply to domestic operations: compensation in case of death or injury of passengers: $100,000; destruction, loss, damage or delay of baggage: $1,000.”
A seasoned aviation lawyer told THISDAY that Dana Air has obligations under its licence and under the law, first of all to be insured.
“The condition of its licence is that it must be insured adequately. That insurance will cover several components. It will cover the aircraft itself; it will cover damage to the ground, to the people on the ground. It will cover liability to third parties that is passengers and for baggage and for cargo.”
The lawyer also noted that the dead is supposed to be compensated in accordance to whatever existing law in individual country’s own jurisdiction, explaining that it is supposed to be indemnification.
“Everybody is a human being, yes, but all fingers are not equal. You are indemnifying the people who were left behind. The loss suffered by someone who has a billionaire father is different from someone who is unemployed.
“The insurer will have to take all this information to determine what to pay as compensation to each person. So there should be minimum liability regime where you don’t have to prove fault or where the airline cannot say it will not pay,” he added.
But the relatives of those that died are demanding higher compensation beyond what the law of the land stipulates that the airline’s insurers should pay for each person that died.
Observers believe that this will give rise to legal fight because the person who demands that the airline should pay more must convince the court that the crash took place due to negligence. At that point, the airline is obliged to start providing defences.
Some of the relatives of the victims met recently at the MUSON Centre in Lagos under the auspices of Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) where issues, including that of compensation were tabled. Lawyers, who spoke at the event, advised them to ensure that they have their legal counsels while negotiating with the airline’s insurance company.
The lawyers also explained that minimum claim is different from punitive claim, which the relatives of the victims and their lawyers promised to pursue, insisting that $100,000 cannot compensate for each of the most promising Nigerians who lost their youthful lives in the crash.
But the president of Aviation Round Table (ART) Captain Dele Ore, a pilot and also a lawyer told THISDAY in Abuja that demanding for more compensation beyond the stipulated amount of $100,000 is more complicated than many thought.
He said that abiding by the given compensation as stipulated by the Act demands that the airline should fulfil its lawful obligations, but it becomes a fight when the person who lost his loved one demands for more. He also explained why there may be delay in the airline paying the obligatory compensation.
Lawyers are really having a field day. An industry observer noted that these bodies formed to drum up support for the relatives of the victims and others, including private investigations being carried out may not be necessary because there is international standard laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) (Annexe 13) that spells out how and who should carry out air accident investigations.