Compensation for aircraft passengers – a warning call on limitation periods (based on the example of the emergency landing of a Boeing 767 aircraft on November 1st, 2011 in Warsaw)

Jolanta Budzowska        09 January 2018        Comments (0)

A few days ago, a final report on the causes of the Boeing 767 emergency landing at the Okęcie Airport in Warsaw in 2011 was published.

While Captain’s Tadeusz Wrona’s piloting skills prevented a catastrophe, the passengers unfortunately still had to go through a debilitating, traumatic experience, and suffered mental injuries as a result.

A civil claim for compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages was filed on the first anniversary of the accident, i.e. on November 1st, 2012, against the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing Company, as well as the servicing company, Mach II. Representing the victims’ interests were law firms which specialise in aviation accidents: Wisner Law Firm from Chicago, Stewarts Law of London from England and Budzowska Fiutowski and Partners. Legal Counsels (BFP). The final number of plaintiffs in the proceedings initiated in the United States exceeded 130 (out of 231 passengers who were aboard the Boeing 767), including 103 clients who were directly provided with legal assistance by my law firm: Budzowska, Fiutowska and Partners. Legal Counsels.
The case settled in April of 2015. I have written extensively on this matter in the “On the wings of justice” entry. https://personalinjurylawyers.pl/on-the-wings-of-justice/
The Polish State Commission for Aircraft Accidents Investigation, after six years since the accident occurred, and almost three years after the parties have accepted the settlement agreement, determined why the LOT aircraft had to be landed on its belly, after the landing gear failed to deploy.

The document indicated reasons that, according to the experts, have led to the accident. The Commission concluded that the first cause of the accident was damage to the hydraulic system, responsible for powering the primary landing gear system. Following this malfunction, the crew encountered further problems when trying to run an alternative system, which also failed. The reason of this was a tripped fuse. The fact that the crew has not detected that the fuse was in an “off” position (tripped) has been determined to be the another cause of the accident. The crew focused on only one of the fuses, that is the one responsible for an alternative landing gear system, not knowing that they ought to also check the second fuse. The crew’s checklist did not include information about the fuse, and neither was it mentioned by the mechanic with whom the crew consulted before landing. The Commission was unable to determine the time when the fuse has been tripped. This is not indicated by any warning system, and the flight data recorders do not register the fuse’s work. The Commission recommends that in the future the procedure of fuse inspection should be put on the checklists.

Even after a few years since the claim was filed, injured passengers have still been contacting me, requesting that I represent them. For many of them, the two-year limitation period applicable in this case was far too short to recover from trauma and move on, allowing them to even consider undertaking legal action. Some of the passengers simply waited for the Commission’s report. Unfortunately, due to the limitation period, it was no longer possible to obtain compensation for them.

The overall conclusion is that, in most cases, waiting to initiate legal procedures aimed at seeking compensation for personal injury is a bad idea. The limitation periods in different legal regimes are often shorter than the timeframe in which the circumstances of an accident are explained through official procedures.

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