Compensatory damages refer to any payment awarded to a plaintiff or plaintiffs to recover costs due to injury or wrongful death. These types of damages generally fall into two categories: economic and non-economic.
- Economic damages, also called pecuniary losses, include any loss that can be measured financially such as medical costs, lost wages of the injured party and the loss of the income of a wage-earner in the case of wrongful death.
- Non-economic damages cover less tangible types of loss (those that affect one’s quality of life). This can include physical impairments (for example, the loss of a limb or mobility), emotional distress, and pain and suffering, which, in aviation cases, also includes pre-impact fear.
Because aviation cases often involve passengers, airlines and manufacturers all from different states and nations, it may be challenging for victims to be fully compensated both economically and non-economically. In some jurisdictions, children, retirees and others who do not earn a wage and have no one dependent on them financially have no measurable economic worth in the eyes of the court. In those instances, there would, unfortunately, be no pecuniary compensatory damages awarded.
In claims involving injuries or deaths on international flights, the Warsaw Convention or Montreal Convention would apply. However, these treaties have no provisions in regard to damages, so courts must rely on the laws of the nation in which the suit is being litigated to determine the victim’s compensation. In the U.S., if a claim is brought against an airline for an injury on an international flight, the liability is going to be decided by the Montreal Convention, but the damages would be based on the state’s wrongful death law unless the airline can prove that it was not negligent, or the accident was the fault of a third party. For accidents that fall under the Warsaw Convention, that treaty’s liability limits would cap the amount of recoverable damages. While the Montreal Convention does allow for unlimited compensatory damages in cases where the airline is completely at fault, both treaties shield airlines from punitive damages.
For any accidents that occur over international waters, the Death on the High Seas Act applies and would cover economic damages as well as certain non-economic compensatory damages.