BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Families of those killed aboard the Germanwings flight are likely to receive vastly different payouts depending on their nationality, where they bought the ticket, and how much they earned, even though they all shared the same fate, lawyers said.
Claims can be made either where the ticket was purchased, in the home country of the airline, at courts in the passenger's destination or in the passenger's home country.
But in air crashes, the amounts awarded for pain and suffering vary by country, with victims from the United States tending to receive higher payouts, followed by Europeans and Asians.
Lawyer James Healy-Pratt at Stewarts Law LLP, which is advising families of those killed in the Malaysian Air disasters last year, said British parents who lose an adult child can expect compensation of around 20,000 pounds (S$40,305), while American parents could expect 1.5 million pounds.
"This is despite the obvious fact that each passenger has a shared and similar experience in the final minutes of the doomed flight," Healy-Pratt, based in New York, said.
For example, under the fatal accidents act, British families can claim a bereavement award of around 13,000 pounds. Further claims are awarded for the cost of funeral expenses and a variable amount based on how dependent others were on the deceased for income and services.
In Germany, damages are calculated based on the victim's lost earnings and other financial consequences of the loss, such as travel costs, and there is typically no separate award for pain and suffering, said German lawyer Elmar Giemulla, who has been approached for help by families of the group of schoolchildren killed onboard the flight.
With many claims therefore likely to be based mainly on financial considerations, this means that revelations by Lufthansa that its flight school knew of pilot Andreas Lubitz's depression are unlikely to affect outcomes in many countries apart from the United States.
HELP FOR AS LONG AS NEEDED
The 144 passengers on the plane came from 18 different countries, Germanwings has said. The majority were from Germany and Spain, while three were from the United States. "You can get the situation where you have two passengers sat next to each other but the value of their claims is radically different," said Jim Morris, a lawyer at London-based Irwin Mitchell, which is assisting family members of British and foreign nationals on board the Germanwings flight.
Morris said he expected it would be a very expensive crash for the airline's insurers and that Lufthansa was unlikely to try and reject full liability.
Insurance industry sources have said that insurers would stick with their liability policies for Lufthansa and Germanwings, even though the airline said it was aware that Lubitz had gone through a period of severe depression.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said on Wednesday that the airline would provide assistance to the families of those killed "for as long as help is needed".
Germany's Allianz, which is coordinating the insurance response, said on Wednesday that all claims arising from the crash would be handled fully, fairly and as quickly as possible.
The insurer's preliminary estimate for the total cost of the crash is US$300 million (S$408 million) but it has said the figure could change as new information became available.
Insurers often pencil in liability of US$1 million per person killed on a flight but Arthur Flieger, an Antwerp-based lawyer involved in claims cases such as the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared over a year ago, said victims' families often accept a standard award and are loath to pursue airlines in court. "It costs a lot of money and takes many years. People who have lost family, they just want to move on with their lives."