Published On: Wed, May 28th, 2014

Caribbean Airlines liable for personal injury lawsuits, US court rules

caribbean-airlines-crashNEW YORK, USA -- The Eastern District Court in New York has issued a significant ruling in personal injury cases against Caribbean Airlines arising from the 2011 crash landing of Caribbean Airlines Flight BW 523 in Georgetown, Guyana – a flight that originated at New York’s JFK International Airport.

In a question of first impression, the court ruled that Guyana is not a party to the Warsaw Convention -- a multilateral treaty that governs international air travel – and therefore allowed a personal injury lawsuit against Caribbean Airlines to move forward in the US and paved the way for the plaintiffs to seek damages for emotional pain and suffering, in addition to physical injuries.

Colson Hicks Eidson attorneys Curtis Miner and Stephanie Casey filed several lawsuits against Caribbean Airlines on behalf of the plaintiffs, who were passengers on Flight BW 523 and suffered personal injuries when the plane overshot the runway and broke in half. The complaint asserts common law negligence claims and claims for damages under the Warsaw Convention.

The defendant, Caribbean Airlines, filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction claiming that Guyana is a party to the Warsaw Convention and that the US was not one of the specified forums in which an action against an air carrier could be brought under the Warsaw Convention. The defendant contended that Guyana is a party to the treaty because the United Kingdom ratified the Warsaw Convention on behalf of its colonies in 1935 when British Guiana –the predecessor to Guyana – was a British colony and that it did not need to take any further action when it became independent.

Pointing to expert opinion testimony and other historical evidence, Miner and Casey successfully argued that Guyana never took formal actions to properly and effectively ratify or accede to the Warsaw Convention following its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, and the government of Poland (the depositary nation of the Warsaw Convention), the United States, and the International Civil Aviation Organization do not list Guyana as a “High Contracting Party” to the Warsaw Convention.

The court ultimately sided with the plaintiffs and concluded that Guyana is not a party to the Warsaw Convention and the treaty therefore does not govern this case.

“The Warsaw Convention contains caps on the damages that can be recovered, and the Supreme Court has held that the Warsaw Convention bars recovery for purely emotional injuries,” said Miner. “This ruling is significant as it allows us to move forward with pursuing our claims against the airline in the United States and seek damages for the plaintiffs who suffered from severe emotional distress as a result of this accident. The ruling may also impact airlines that fly between Guyana and the United States in that claims of passengers who fly roundtrip from Guyana will not be covered by the Warsaw Convention, which is seen as being protective of airlines over passengers.”

The plaintiffs were traveling on tickets between Florida and Georgetown, Guyana when the crash occurred. Rajendra Persaud, 64, and Prampatie Persaud, 64, reside in Florida, while Shanti Persaud, 34, and her two minor children, ages 10 and 7, live in Guyana.

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