Record compensation for relatives of Concorde dead

15:29 AEDT Mon 23 Jul 2001
AFP - Relatives of victims of the Concorde crash will receive compensation that constitutes a record for Europe, lawyers acting in the case said.

Ninety-six German tourists aboard the airliner died, along with 13 crew members and four people on the ground, when it crashed in flames onto an hotel on July 25 last year shortly after takeoff from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris.

"The compensation for passengers has now been settled. Labour laws apply to the flight personnel and that is taking its course," said Fernand Garnault, who heads the team of lawyers handling the claim against Air France which operated the supersonic jet.

He added that damages had been paid to the families of two Polish trainees of the wrecked hotel and that a settlement was closed to being reached regarding the two other people on the ground who died.

Negotiators reached overall agreement with the families of the passengers in May after only ten months of talks. Payments to the some 700 recipients concerned began at the end of last month and are now being completed.

Half of them have already received a cheque and all should have done so by the first anniversary of the disaster, German lawyers Gerhart Baum and Ronald Schmid told AFP last week.

The exact amount the German claimants will receive has not been revealed, but is believed to exceed $US100 million ($A198 million), sources close to the discussions said.

The few families who had sought damages in the United States have dropped their cases, Garnault said.

The compensation issue has been settled remarkably quickly, according to the lawyers. "The threat of suits in the United States and the desire to see the Concordes flying again weighed in the balance," Schmid said.

French prestige has also been a factor, other lawyers in the case said.

Schmid said that Air France's insurers increased their original offer and "changed their tone" with the threat of American suits.

"We finally obtained the highest sum ever conceded in such a case in Europe," lawyer Ulrich von Jeinsen said.

Because the plane was headed for New York, the families of the passengers could have sought damages in the United States, where the compensation paid in respect of air disasters is a great deal higher than in Europe.

In the United States, the level of compensation works out at around 2.9 million euros ($A5 million) per victim, lawyers said, against 705,000 euros ($A1.2 million) to a maximum of 2.35 million euros ($A4.1 million) at best in Europe.

Under German law, the compensation paid in such cases takes into account only the material and not the moral loss for relatives, and is fixed at a maximum of around 27,350 euros ($A47,270) per victim, German lawyers explained.

Thus by comparison, relatives of the German tourists who died in the Birgen Air Boeing which crashed off the Dominican Republic in February 1996 received only some 23,000 euros ($A39,750) each.

"The solution that has been found is higher than European standards but much less than American standards," Garnault said of the Concorde crash settlement.

The amount that different relatives of the victims receive varies, sometimes considerably, according to how closely they were related to the dead person, Schmid explained.

With their acceptance of the out-of-court settlement, the relatives renounce the legal right to any further claims for damages.

İAAP 2001 

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