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Endgame for families in compensation fight

The families of victims of the Air India crash from Dubai to Mangalore last year are appealing a court order blocking them from compensation that as determined under international law.

Lawyers representing the families of those who died in the Mangalore air crash will file an appeal within the next 10 days at the Indian Supreme Court, in a final bid to seek levels of compensation that are in line with international standards.

The families, in both the UAE and India, are hoping that a ruling by the court in New Delhi in their favour will bring them closure more than a year after the Air India Express flight from Dubai crash-landed in Mangalore.

Flight 812 overshot the runway in May last year, killing 152 passengers and all six crew. Eight passengers survived.

"The case will require some preparation time and we are working on it," said Kodoth Sridhar, a lawyer who said he would appeal by November 23. "We are confident of a judgment in our favour."

Under the Montreal Convention, airlines are required to pay compensation equal to 7.5 million rupees (Dh560,000) per passenger to families, without needing negligence to be proven. In July, a judge in Kerala had ordered the airline to follow the convention in the country's first judgment since it became a signatory. However, the judgment was overruled a month later by the Kerala High Court.

"It's do or die for us," said Santosh Rai, who lost his wife and two children in the crash. "We have no other way out but the Supreme Court. If this doesn't work, then we will not know where to go."

Dozens of families in the UAE and India are still waiting for compensation from the government-owned airline, while others have accepted settlements for amounts less than those demanded by the convention.

"We are not behind the money, we have our respect, but this is just not correct," said Abdul Rahman, who lives in Dubai and lost his wife and child. "This is painful for us that we have to keep going through this experience."

One of the survivors also criticised the airline. "Many people who died were working overseas," said Ummerfarooq Mohammed, who has resumed work at his old company.

"They were the sole breadwinners for their families. Besides the pain of losing loved ones, they now have to fight for their rights."

Mr Mohammed is one of eight who escaped with burn wounds. It took him eight months to recover.

"I may not receive any further compensation as I have already signed papers stating I will not sue the airline for more money," he said.

He received about 1.5 million rupees from Air India and 200,000 rupees for hospital expenses.

HD Nanavati, a partner at Mulla & Mulla & Craigie Blunt & Caroe in Mumbai, representing the airline and the insurers, said that 604.3 million rupees had been paid out so far in settling 77 cases.

"We have continued holding discussions with the claimants in an attempt to settle as many cases as possible. It (compensation) entirely depends upon the extent of the injuries and the extent of the loss caused to them."

The airline said that compensation must be worked out on a "proof of loss" basis. In the case of infants, Mr Nanavati said his clients had agreed to pay a minimum of 2.5 million rupees.

Several families have objected. "How can they measure children like this?" asked Mr Rahman.

Vayalar Ravi, India's civil aviation and overseas affairs minister, yesterday said he continued to meet families hoping to find a middle ground.

"I had advised them [Air India] not to appeal," Mr Ravi said. "But their reasoning is different."

pkannan@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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