After recently discussing the Asiana Airlines crash and the possible $100+ million benefit Asiana might see given that most of the passengers were not American and thus will likely be precluded from filing suit in the U.S., a recent news report in the Washington Post on the subject of Asiana injury lawsuits deserves a mention. According to the Washington Post article, three families from the San Francisco Bay area have formally filed lawsuits against Boeing over the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214. The suit names Boeing as a defendant in addition to Asiana, but the claim does not involve the cause of the crash itself. Instead, the counts against Boeing concerns injuries sustained by passengers that were allegedly caused by the plane’s Boeing-manufactured seatbelts.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in northern California and raises some touchy class issues, which is certainly an odd tactic for a personal injury matter. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that coach passengers onboard Asiana Airlines suffered more serious injuries overall than did passengers located in the more luxurious, and evidently safer, business class. The reason is that the seatbelt configurations in the two compartments differ, with coach passengers receiving only lap belts while business class customers are given an additional shoulder restraint, something more akin to the safety belts seen in passenger vehicles.
Though the difference may not seem terribly important, the lawsuit claims that Asiana passengers in coach who only wore lap belts at the time of the crash suffered serious brain and spinal injuries which could have easily been prevented had they been given the shoulder restraints which are made available to those in the roomier and more expensive business class seats located at the front of the plane. The lawsuit noted that passengers located towards the back of the plane received the brunt of the impact of the crash as the plane skidded off the runway and the tail snapped detached from the aircraft. Despite the force being exerted on passengers in the rear of the plane, it was the passengers up front that allegedly received superior protection.
The airline industry has long fought attempts to add three-point seatbelts for all airplane passengers, arguing that such a change would cost a prohibitive amount of money to redesign seats. The industry also claims that such a redesign would result in higher airfares and generally less comfort for passengers. Beyond the seat belt issue, the lawsuit also blames Asiana for failing to properly train its pilots as well as Boeing for making a plane with an inadequate throttle. The Washington Post article noted that the lawsuit on behalf of the three injured families is the first to bring up the seatbelt issue. Many aviation and legal experts believe that if the claim proves fruitful, it will be the first of many.