US Court Tosses Out All Air France Flight 447 Cases

Most of the families of the 228 passengers who were aboard Flight 447 filed suit in the United States. The reason they chose to file suit in the United States was simple. The courts of other countries provide little compensation to those who have lost loved ones due to the negligence of another.  And resolving cases in other countries can take seemingly forever. For example, as discussed here, the July 2000 crash of the Air France Concorde is still wending its way through the French court system. That’s despite the fact that the families who sued in the US settled their cases years ago. It may be surprising to many, but the US court Air France Wreckagesystem moves much faster than those of many other countries.

The Air France Flight 447 cases were all pending before a federal judge sitting in San Francisco.  Earlier this week, the judge reluctantly dismissed all the cases, ruling that they should be brought in France instead of the US.

The judge noted at the outset that dismissing the cases will mean that they will likely be refiled in France where they will languish.  It is thus doubtful that the families will ever be fairly compensated. But given the law of forum non conveniens, he couldn’t justify keeping the cases in the US:  

The Court has great sympathy for all the families who lost loved ones in this horrific accident and is interested in seeing those families fairly and timely compensated. But sympathy cannot substitute for an unbiased application of the law.

The judge noted that many manufacturers of the aircraft’s various components are located in the United States. That means the United States does indeed have a legitimate interest in the litigation. After all,

The United States [has] an interest in deterring the manufacture of defective products by domestic corporations.

But the judge decided that interest was outweighed by other factors. For example, a criminal investigation into the cause of the crash is currently taking place in France. French civil courts can get access to the evidence that is gathered in that investigation. But US courts cannot. That, according to the judge, makes it more appropriate for the cases to be heard in France.

Unfortunately, as discussed here, nothing ever seems to come of those criminal investigations in France. And it’s unlikely that, in France, the victims will ever receive fair compensation for their loss. In fact, any compensation at all from the manufacturers is now a long, long way off.

The judge's 20 page opinion can be found here.

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Cloudesley Shovell - October 11, 2010 3:25 PM

I'm neither here nor there on the actual case, but I found Judge Breyer's use of "MC" as shorthand for the Montreal Convention pretty annoying. Especially so because he used the shorthand first without defining what it stood for, and because Warsaw Convention was always spelled out. Go figure.

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