Germanwings crash families could seek damages in the US: Lawyer

FRANKFURT (REUTERS) - Families of the victims of the Germanwings crash are considering filing a claim for damages in the United States if they cannot reach agreement with parent airline Lufthansa in Germany, a lawyer representing the families said on Sunday.

Compensation talks with Lufthansa are expected to start soon and the lawyer, Elmar Giemulla, told Reuters he hoped the company would agree to pay damages commensurate with the emotional harm caused by the crash. "If the airline is not prepared to do so, however, we will look seriously at making a claim in the United States," said Giemulla, adding that he was representing 21 families including those of the German school children who died.

All 150 people on board the airliner were killed in the crash on March 24. Investigators believe the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had a history of depression, deliberately steered the plane into a mountain in the French Alps after locking the captain out of the cockpit.

Giemulla said his clients could join the families of two US citizens who also lost their lives in the crash in seeking damages through a US court.

He said he was already working closely with lawyers representing the US families, adding that it would be at the discretion of the judge in the United States whether to allow damage claims by the other families as well.

There are precedents for such cases, Giemulla said.

In air crashes, the amounts awarded for pain and suffering vary by country, with victims from the United States tending to receive higher payouts than in Germany because US courts recognise compensation for emotional harm.

Emergency aid payments

In Germany, damages are calculated based on a victim's lost earnings and other financial consequences from the loss, such as travel costs, and there is typically no separate award for pain and suffering, according to Giemulla.

This means that revelations by Lufthansa that its flight school knew of Lubitz's depression may not influence the level of payouts in Germany as they could under US law.

Giemulla said he is considering seeking 1 million euros (S$1.5 million) per victim.

So far, Lufthansa has paid 111 families emergency aid of 50,000 euros each, a company spokesman said on Sunday, adding that the airline aimed to make payments to the remaining families as quickly as possible.

The spokesman declined to comment on the possibility of damage claims being made through a US court.

Nearly half of the victims of the Germanwings Barcelona to Duesseldorf flight were German, with the remaining passengers hailing from a range of countries, including Spain, Australia and Argentina.

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