No survivor suits yet in TWA -- nobody knows who to sueSeptember 30, 1996
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Christine Negroni
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Not a single family has filed a survivor lawsuit yet against Trans World Airlines for the crash of Flight 800 in July, partly because nobody knows yet whom to blame.
Although 230 people died in the plane's crash off Long Island in July, the cause of the crash remains under investigation. The most lucrative lawsuits would likely depend on knowing why the plane went down.
So, most have taken the position of Walter Becker, who lost his daughter on the flight. "There's always time, once the safety board's report comes out, to figure out what legal action to take," he said.
In a case where the crash was nobody's fault, the families of children who died in the crash stand to gain the least. The reason: a federal law called the "Death on the High Seas Act."
It says that if death occurs off-shore, relatives can be paid no more than the earnings a victim would have been contributing to the family. Children often have no such income.
Jay Carven, the uncle of one of the crash victims, is bitter about the law. "How do you know that one of those children from Montoursville, or my nephew, wouldn't be the next Bill Gates and start some empire that would employ hundreds of thousands of people? How can you put a cap on human life?" he asked.
On top of that, an international agreement, the Warsaw Convention, sets a ceiling of $75,000 for the life of any victim unless the families can prove the airline was guilty of willful misconduct in the crash.
When Pan Am 103 was bombed in 1988, some passenger families got much more, by showing the airline ignored warnings that it might be the target of terrorists. The ruling may set precedents for the TWA flight, said plaintiff's attorney Arthur Wolk. If the TWA flight were downed by a bomb, he said, "one could argue that TWA already had several bombing incidents on its aircraft in the past. It therefore was forewarned."
Depending on what caused the crash, lawyers could also target companies -- for example Boeing -- if the crash were caused by a mechanical malfunction in the plane, or the airline's security firm if the plane were sabotaged.
Following a crash, airlines often offer financial settlements to the surviving families in return for an agreement not to sue. So far, TWA has not. A spokesman said that, like the families, nobody is sure what to do until everyone knows what happened.
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