The Superior Court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a China-based travel agency against Star Marianas Air Inc. over a plane crash on Tinian in 2013 that killed three persons, including its pilot, and injured four others.
In an order last week granting Star Marianas Air’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho found that Foshan Tianning International Travel Ltd. failed to state a basis for its claim of vicarious liability, a legal doctrine that assigns liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a particular legal relationship to the person who did act negligently.
Camacho found that Foshan also failed to allege that it extinguished Star Marianas’ liability to third-parties.
Star Marianas Air flies aircraft between Tinian and Saipan and also flies to Guam and Rota. It has temporarily suspended passenger operations, but continues to transport cargo and provide emergency medical flights.
The judge said that Foshan’s complaint plead that there were suits filed by the passengers involved in the crash against certain companies in China. Camacho said Foshan’s complaint also plead certain amounts that Foshan has allegedly been obligated to pay because of these lawsuits in China. However, Camacho said, Foshan’s complaint neither identified any of the lawsuits nor any of the judgments in China. He found that the complaint failed to state whether the alleged lawsuits in China extinguished any liability payable by Star Marianas to the passengers involved in the crash. Camacho found that the complaint failed to claim that Star Marianas has had its liability extinguished by third-parties.
According to court records, a Star Marianas flight took off from Tinian on Oct. 6, 2013, and crashed before reaching Saipan, which killed several people and severely injured others. Four of the passengers involved in the crash—three survivors and one fatality—made their initial booking through Zhejiang Waihai Star International Travel Co. Ltd. (Waihai). Waihai then contracted with additional companies in China and on Saipan to provide for the transportation and accommodations sold to customers in China.
Waihai contracted with Everbright International Travel Co. Ltd. to make travel arrangements for Waihai customers. Everbright, in turn, contracted with Foshan, with Foshan responsible for arranging flight tickets, local itinerary, accommodations, and other local travel arrangements. Foshan, in turn, contracted with Saipan Travel to make travel arrangements on Saipan and Tinian. Saipan Travel is a company based in the CNMI.
Based on a contract/agreement between Saipan Travel and Star Marianas, Saipan Travel arranged for air transportation for its customers between Tinian and Saipan as part of prearranged tour packages.
One of the injured passengers, Lei Wang, sued Waihai in China in 2014 for compensation for her injuries in the crash. Foshan was determined to be liable to Waihai for indemnification and paid her 1,065,680 yuan as an advance settlement.
Lei Wang prevailed in her lawsuit against Waihai and Waihai was ordered to pay her 980,463 yuan, plus a case processing fee of 13,605 yuan.
In 2014, another passenger in the crash, Peng Liang Cai, filed a lawsuit in China against Waihai to recover damages for serious injuries sustained in the crash.
Peng Liang Cai also prevailed in his lawsuit against Waihai, and the company was ordered to pay him 410,03 yuan, plus a case processing fee of 7,459 yuan.
In 2014, the three injured passengers in the crash also filed suit against Waihai for the death of a fourth passenger, Zhang Xiao Lei, who was related to the first three.
In 2016, Waihai filed a lawsuit in China against Everbright for indemnification. Waihai prevailed and Everbright was ordered to pay Waihai 1,067,126 yuan representing Waihai’s liability to the passengers in the crash minus Foshan’s advance payments.
The three passengers prevailed in this lawsuit, and Waihai was ordered to pay them 785,616 yuan, plus a case processing fee of 12,271 yuan.
In 2016, the China Union Property Insurance Co. Ltd. filed suit against Foshan and Everbright to recover funds paid out as a result of the crash. CPUC prevailed and Foshan and Everbright were held jointly and severally liable to pay to CPUC 500,000 yuan, plus a case processing fee of 8,800 yuan.
In 2019, Everbright filed suit against Foshan to recover costs incurred as a result of litigation related to the crash. Everbright’s suit filed in China seeks compensation in the amount of 1,102,818 yuan.
In this lawsuit, filed in August 2018 in the Superior Court, Foshan’s complaint states that, as a result of Star Marianas’ alleged negligence, Foshan has been held vicariously liable and required to pay 2,677,298 yuan, or approximately $423,817. Foshan claims that it is without fault in regards to the crash, and without its relationship with Star Marianas, it would not be liable for damages in any way. Furthermore, Foshan claims that because of the relationship between Foshan and Star Marianas, Foshan has been held vicariously liable for damages.
Foshan further claims that its vicarious liability is the direct and proximate result of Star Marianas’ conduct. As a result, Foshan claims it is entitled to complete indemnification by Star Marianas for all sums for which Foshan has been held liable in relation to the crash, plus costs of defense, costs of suit, and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred.
Star Marianas moved to dismiss the lawsuit. In granting Star Marianas’ motion, Camacho said the complaint failed to specify what type of relationship, if any, allegedly existed between Foshan and Star Marianas. Camacho said Foshan failed to plead enough allegations to provide “fair notice of the nature of the action” to put Star Marianas on notice.
Bruce Berline is counsel for Foshan, while Timothy H. Bellas is counsel for Star Marianas.