Today in the headlines I read where some families who lost relatives last March on the doomed Malaysian Airlines flight 370 will claim the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the plane is irrelevant … and that the airline still has a duty to pay them. Emotions aside, I found it interesting that one of the case rulings that will contribute to the litigation stem from Pan Am Airways Hawaii Clipper flight 229 lost July 29, 1938.
In this new 2016 lawsuit, claimed under the Montreal Convention — an international treaty — when a plane flying between countries crashes … people suing the airline don’t have to prove any negligence … only the fact that the aircraft crashed is enough, part of the defense will rise from the lawsuit “Choy v. Pan-Am World Airways” in 1941. The Choy family took Pan Am to court in New York for the loss of Wah Sun “Watson” Choy, a passenger carrying three million dollars in gold bank notes as Chinese War Relief funds for Chiang Kai-shek’s fight against the Japanese invasion prior to World War II.
Unfortunately for the Choy family, the lawsuit failed and the airline prevailed in court sighting the clause “on the high seas” in Admiralty terminology stating it was intended only as a geographical expression “capable of expansion to, under, or over, as scientific advances change methods of travel.” This court specifically extended the purview of the statute, reasoning that a cause of action arising above the high seas demanded as adequate a remedy as one arising in a vessel on the seas, and that the statute was not intended by its nature to be restrictive in its application. As part of that, as explained to me, unless negligence could be proved, there would be no $160,000 payout per passenger.
To this very day, the bulk of the 777 aircraft has yet to be located and like the Martin M-130 Flying boat, has prompted many theories about its disappearance. Neither the crew of the Hawaii Clipper or the Malaysian aircraft relayed a distress signal, indications of bad weather, or technical problems before the aircraft vanished. In this current case however Malaysian police identified the Captain as the prime suspect if human intervention was the cause of the disappearance, after clearing all other passengers of any suspicious motives.