Yesterday’s damages award* to the fiance of Sally Urquhart killed with 14 others when Transair Metroliner smashed into mountains on approach to Lockhart River airstrip highlights the urgent need to update Australia’s air passenger compensation regime.
Mr Thornton was awarded the maximum allowable under current law of $500,000 for his fiance’s death in the May 2005 crash. But the compensation limit applies “per passenger” so that in the case of the death of a breadwinner of a family with 4 children – the maximum of the same damages applies. In such a case, the aggregated damages for all family members ie spouse and each child, is restricted to the same $500,000 maximum that applies to a single dependant. This is entirely unrealistic.
The domestic compensation limit was last set 14 years ago and since then the cost of living has increased by about 50%.
The international community decided in 1999, by way of the Montréal Convention, that the $500,000 liability limit was unfair and inadequate – even for a single claimant. The internatinal compensation limit was updated from January 2009 .
The new rules that apply from January 2009 for international passengers mean the airline is liable for injuries up to $200,000 but will also be presumed liable for all additional passenger losses with no upper limit, unless the airline proves the accident wasn’t its fault.
But there is no review on the horizon for domestic liability limits. No reasonable person could contend that a consumer who travels internally should have a much lower standard of legal rights than someone flying internationally.
There is now urgent need for compensation limits in respect of death or injury to domestic air passengers to be increased.
* Thornton v Lessbrook Pty Ltd  QSC 308 Applegarth J 26/08/2010
What do you think? Send an online email protest to the Federal Minister to act immediately to increase the compensation limits for domestic air passengers.