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A lawyer contacted by some victims of the Latam Airlines mid-air plunge says some have been offered a few thousand dollars, much less than what they could be entitled to.

Carter Capner Law director Peter Carter said compensation could be available in most cases around 50 passengers and crew injured when the plane suddenly dipped in altitude two-thirds of the way across the Tasman on a Sydney-Auckland flight. Some could be in line for unlimited compensation if the airline is found to be negligent.

Carter said under the Montréal 1999 Convention an airline is liable for up to A$260,000 ($279,000)for proven losses like medical expenses, loss of amenities of life and income loss for proven bodily injury. This could be unlimited if the airline was found to be negligent.

Thirteen people needed hospital treatment following the March 11 plunge, some with serious injuries.

“We’ve had some inquiries and we are liaising with those passengers and there’s a range of injuries from minor to serious,” Carter told the Herald.

The Brisbane-based firm offers compensation legal services and warns passengers should be cautious about offers of payment from the airline.

“Each person has rights which in many cases will be substantial. Be sure not to agree to any terms and be especially careful about signing anything,” the firm warns on a Facebook page devoted to FlightLA80O.

Carter said between 10 and 12 people had contacted the firm, some had been offered an initial ex gratia payment of US$1500($2502)to cover immediate needs.

“There’s been a few thousand dollars in other cases. Our interest is to ensure that the acceptance of that doesn’t prejudice other rights.”

“The normal procedure in this type of thing is to get medical assessments done on our side and present them to the airline or rather their insurer,” said Carter.

Latam, a Chilean-based airline, has been quiet about the incident, aside from issuing a 92-word statement when it happened more than two weeks ago. Repeated efforts to find out more about the incident from an airline PR representative in Sydney have been unsuccessful.

Carter has represented Qantas passengers in earlier airline incidents and said the silence from Latam was likely at the behest of its insurers and it would also be wary of saying too much while investigations were underway.

One theory is that a cabin crew member who delivered a meal to the pilot may have pressed on a seat button which jammed and pushed him forward on to the controls of the Boeing Dreamliner plane, sending it into a steep-dive.

Passengers without physical injuries but who have psychological damage from the terror of the event can’t claim against the airline.

“They will have to wait to see what the cause of the inflight failure is proved to be. If itis as a result of a Boeingfault or a deficiency in an aircraft system,they will be able to claim against Boeing or the systems supplier for whatever losses they have sustained,” Carter told the Herald earlier this month.

Under the International Convention on Aviation, the Direccion General de Aeronautica Civil (DGAC) – the Chilean accident investigation authority – is responsible for investigating the accident and has requested help from New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

The commission has seized the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from the eight-year-old plane and they were likely to have been sent to Canberra for analysis.

The National Transportation Safety Board in the United States could become involved as that’s the base of Boeing, which is facing other safety investigations into its troubled 737 Max.

Carter said he would prefer to negotiate resolutions with the airline’s insurers rather than go to court.

The aircraft involved in the incident – distinctive because of an unusual amount of speed tape on wings that are being repainted
– was grounded for three days in Auckland but has resumed flights. Today, it is operating between Madrid and Santiago.