DUBAI // The high court in Kerala yesterday ordered Air India to pay at least 7.5 million rupees (Dh618,000) within a month to each family of the victims of the Mangalore air disaster.
The Indian government, which owns the airline, welcomed the decision and said it would not appeal.
“This is a huge victory for the families who lost their loved ones. It is an unprecedented judgement,” said Kodoth Sridharan, lawyer for Abdul Salam, who lost his son, Mohammed Rafi, 24, in the crash.
Mr Salam, a fisherman, said he had taken legal action because his family had lost its sole breadwinner and he was forced to support his two other sons.
“I welcome the verdict,” said Vayalar Ravi, the Indian civil aviation and overseas affairs minister. “I have directed Air India to expedite the payment. The total amount is yet to be calculated and will be paid by the insurance companies.”
Families of the victims were restrained in their reaction because they believe the judgment is only the first step in their battle for compensation. They are also worried that Air India could appeal, despite the minister’s assurances.
The ruling binds Air India to adhere to the Montreal Convention, which India has signed and ratified. Under the convention, without the need for negligence to be proven, airlines are strictly liable for damages payable in Special Drawing Rights, a mixture of currency values established by the International Monetary Fund.
In this case the court has ordered the airline to pay the victims’ relatives 100,000 SDR and to settle other individual claims.
Air India Express Flight 812 from Dubai, with 160 passengers and six crew on board, overshot the runway and crashed while landing at Mangalore on May 22 last year. Only eight passengers survived.
Relatives will meet in Dubai this week, and family members in Mangalore have also planned meetings, to discuss the judgment and decide on future action.
“We need to know how much time all this will take and what happens if Air India appeals,” said Biju Theekkeveettil, 37, a civil engineer in Dubai who lost his parents in the crash.
“It’s good because now the decision has come from the court. It’s a definite decision instead of people being given different levels of compensation by the airline.”
Air India paid each of the families one million Indian rupees (Dh82,361) as interim compensation. It also appointed a Mumbai-based law firm to handle final compensation amounts on an individual basis with families.
However, for most relatives, it validated their long-held demand that the Indian carrier must follow the Montreal convention for liability claims.
“This is just the beginning, it’s nowhere close to being sorted out,” said Santosh Rai, who lost his wife and two children.
“Now people know we were on the right side. In the end, no money will compensate our loss, people may give the money to charity or welfare.”
Relatives of the victims say they hope group meetings with lawyers over the next few weeks will shed light on these concerns. Many continue to battle depression over the loss of their whole families in the crash.
“It’s not as if the pain fades away; there are no words to describe what I and others have gone through,” Mr Rai said.
Abdul Rahman also believed the court verdict was the beginning of a struggle.
“We are all just breathing, just living; we cannot forget our loved ones,” said Mr Rahman, 52, a shipping company manager who lost his wife and son.
“Now the court has fixed a liability, they have to pay. These are international rules and no Indian politician can play around now. What is the law has to be done. No one can play games with the law, but our wounds are not curable, the wounds are still there.”
Most victims lived and worked in Dubai and supported extended families.
Investigation reports leaked to the Indian media blamed pilot error. Investigators said Capt Zlatko Glusica, 55, had slept for more than 90 minutes during the flight.
Capt Glusica, a British and Serbian national, had more than 10,000 hours of flying time and 7,500 hours of command experience.