Aviation lawyers say that all the passengers and crew on the Southwest Airlines flight that had an engine blowout this week may be able to make a case for compensation.
After the accident come the claims.
Being on an airplane more than six miles in the air when an engine blows up and sends shrapnel through a window is an experience so scary that aviation lawyers say it’s not just the family of the woman killed on a Southwest Airlines flight this week who could have a case.
“All of the passengers here, and the crew, will likely have claims,” said Robert Clifford, founder of Chicago-based Clifford Law Offices, who’s been involved in every domestic commercial aviation disaster since the 1970s. “Even if these people were not physically injured,” he said, “many, many of them will experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The people who were sending “videos to their families, saying, ‘These are my last words to you,’ which is something that did occur in this incident, that kind of person will live with that for the rest of their life,” he said. The plane was carrying 149 people, including five crew members.
Most Read Business Stories
- Tax season 2022: What to know about child credit and stimulus payments
- Is Norway the future of cars?
- Trash left uncollected as Seattle-area sanitation workers join strike
- Boeing is boycotting local aerospace suppliers group
- Mission Ridge says expansion resort project faces 'disjointed' application process
Days after a 737 jet engine exploded about 32,500 feet over Pennsylvania 20 minutes into a flight, federal and corporate inspectors are examining what happened. The National Transportation Safety Board said it will take at least a year to pinpoint what caused the engine failure that led to the first fatality on a U.S.-registered airline in more than nine years.
In the meantime, several experts with knowledge of commercial-airline disasters said that Southwest will likely lead the charge to work with passengers and their families.
In cases of serious injury or death, an airline will usually advance funds to help passengers with immediate needs.
George Hamlin, a transportation consultant based in Fairfax, Virginia, who has worked with airlines and commercial-aviation suppliers, said that although he’s not sure “nonphysical injury” would be covered under that scenario, Southwest’s reputation suggests the company will go to some lengths to appease people who were on the flight.
Still, that may not preclude litigation down the road, though the precedent for liability based on emotional trauma or nonserious injuries is ambiguous.
Clifford is particularly attuned to what forced Flight 1380 to abort its route to Dallas and land instead in Philadelphia.
He was lead counsel for survivors of a DC-10 that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, in July 1989; 112 people died and 184 survived.
“Uncontained engine failures, in which parts of the engine burst through the protective casing called a cowling, have a special history for me in my work,” he said.
Technical experts from 737-maker Boeing and engine-maker CFM International, a venture of General Electric and France’s Safran, are gathering clues about what caused the accident.
Southwest workers, Clifford said, cannot sue their employer. They would, however, have standing to sue General Electric or the manufacturer of any faulty component of the engine. GE, Boeing and Southwest will probably pool funding for settlements and sort out reimbursements later, according to Clifford.
Every commercial plane in the sky is insured for anywhere from $1.85 billion to $2.1 billion. Each company involved has its own insurance coverage, he said.
“All of those insurance interests have already gotten together,” Clifford said, “and somebody’s on point for dealing with these cases.”
A spokesman for Boeing declined to comment beyond the company’s initial statement that its technical team’s priority is assisting the NTSB in its investigation, while a representative of General Electric declined to comment on future liability. Representatives for Southwest didn’t respond to a request for comment.