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Compensation Law Protects Victims' Relatives

From Hoy

By Victor Rodriguez

Relatives of victims of American Airlines 587 are entitled to compensation for the loss of their loved ones under US and New York laws as well as international treaties in use, according to Jesus Peša, a legal expert in this type of cases.

With the intent to help our readers the best we can, and especially those affected by the fatal accident, HOY interviewed Peša on November 17. Below is the report of the interview.

Q: Who is entitled to this compensation?
A: In cases of plane crashes or any other type of accidents, the principle in use is direct inheritance. If the victim was married, the spouse and children under 18 are eligible for compensation. If not, the right transfers to the victim1s children, notwithstanding their age. If he or she was not married and did not have any children, then the amount of the compensation should be equally divided between his or her parents. If only one parent is alive, he or she receives the whole amount. If neither parent is alive, the right transfers to the victim1s brothers and sisters, or if there aren1t any, to aunts and uncles.

Q: What is the law that protects victims1 relatives?
A: State Inheritance Laws that have to be uniform in all US States.

Q: Are there international treaties that govern this type of compensations?
A: Yes, there are. The Warsaw Convention Treaty establishes that, on international flights, airlines bear responsibility up to $ 170,000 per passenger. The same treaty establishes that when investigation results show that the accident was caused by the fall of one of the plane1s wings, claims should be made against the airplane manufacturer and supervising agencies that should have inspected the planes more often.

Q: What with the $ 25,000 allocation?
A: In two previous cases, like the September 11 one, it is the sum that American Airlines gave to relatives of the victims, as part of the total compensation it will grant.

Q: But, how much could compensation amount to?
A: Relatives are eligible for a type of compensation named "loss of income", which is calculated on the basis that in the US, people work until age 65. Then, you deduce how old the victim was when he or she died. For instance, if a person died at age 30, you can calculate that there was a loss of income corresponding to the remaining 35 years. You multiply those 35 years by the victim1s annual salary, including bonuses and other benefits like health insurance. Supposing that the annual salary of the deceased was $50,000, compensation amounts to $1,750,000 per person when you multiply it by 35 years. On top of this, you need to add "damages for the pain caused to the victims", which corresponds to the time during which victims were aware that the plane was going down. It is estimated at least at three minutes. For each second of panic and anxiety, there has to be a form of compensation, which has to be several times higher than what will be awarded for the loss of income.

Q: There is also an issue about people who purchased their ticket with a credit card?
A: That1s right. If the trip was paid for with the victim1s credit card, a wide majority of card companies probably offered the person life insurance that has nothing to do with the benefits we have already mentioned. Relatives also are eligible to some labor compensation, and children under 18 could receive compensation from Social Security.

Q: Does that only apply to US citizens? A: In order for relatives be eligible for compensation, the victim did not have to be a US citizen or a legal resident. Similarly, relatives of those who worked under a false name cannot be penalized. Neither can those who had paid large sums to marry a citizen in order to become a resident.

Translated from Spanish by Marie Martin.

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