IN LAWSUIT OVER FATAL PLANE CRASH
The federal court yesterday dismissed the passengers’ claims against the registered owner and a company that performs maintenance of a plane that crashed at the Franscisco C. Ada-Saipan International Airport in 2012 in which one was killed and five others were injured.
U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge Consuelo B. Marshall dismissed with prejudice the four causes of action—negligence, wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and strict liability—filed by the passengers against Marianas Air Transfer Inc. and Tinian Transportation Management Solutions Inc.
Dismissal with prejudice means the plaintiffs cannot re-open the case anymore.
Marianas Air Transfer is the registered owner of the aircraft involved in the crash, while Tinian Transportation Management performs maintenance on the plane.
Marianas Air Transfer and Tinian Transportation Management moved to dismiss the four claims and also requested to strike plaintiffs’ demand for attorneys’ fees. The plaintiffs filed a statement of non-opposition to the motions.
In granting the motion to dismiss, Marshall said plaintiffs allege that Marianas Air Transfer was the lessor and owner of the aircraft that crashed on Nov. 19, 2012, but do not allege that the company was in “actual possession or control” of the aircraft on that date.
Therefore, Marshall said, Marianas Air Transfer cannot be held liable in this case.
The judge said plaintiffs have failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim against Tinian Transportation Management as to causes of action—negligence, wrongful death, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Plaintiffs do not allege that either Marianas Air Transfer or Tinian Transportation Management is a carrier
Instead, the judge said, plaintiffs’ complaint specifically alleges that Star Marianas Air Inc. was the carrier involved in this incident.
“Therefore, Chapter III Article 17(1) of the Montreal Convention does not apply to defendants Marianas Air Transfer and Tinian Transportation Management,” Marshall said.
Such provision in the Montreal Convention states that, in aircraft accidents, the carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition, only, that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.”
On plaintiffs’ request for attorneys’ fees, the judge said damages in tort do not ordinarily include compensation for attorneys’ fees or other litigation expenses.
Marshall said although there are several exceptions to the American Rule, plaintiffs do not argue that those exceptions apply here.
With this ruling, there are remaining five claims—negligence against Star Marianas Air; negligence against Top Development Inc.; wrongful death against Star Marianas Air, Top Development, and Jae Choi; negligent infliction of emotional distress Star Marianas Air, Top Development, and Jae Choi; and strict liability pursuant to the Montreal Convention against Star Marianas Air.
The plaintiffs who sued are passengers—Xiuzhong Zhu, Meilin Zhou, and Xiaohua Zhou—who were injured during the crash. Xin Hong, another passenger who also suffered serious injuries, agreed to settle the matter.
Xiaojie Ge, a representative of passenger Weilian Lu who was killed in the crash and Lu’s minor daughter, Y. Ge, has also agreed to settle the case.
The seven-passenger Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six crash landed into the trees north of the runway at the airport on Nov. 19, 2012, killing Weilian Lu and injuring pilot Jae Choi and four other passengers. The plane was operated by Star Marianas Air, chartered by Marianas Air Travel, and maintained by Tinian Management Solutions.