aviation

Understanding Air Travellers Rights, Claims Limit

August 11, 2021

Ebere Nwoji writes on the risky nature of air transport, enormity of claims by air passengers and behavior of both airline and insurance operators in accident cases and calls for the need to sensitise passengers on their rights and the limit of their claims when crash occurs.

In the past seven months of this year, 2021, precisely the months of February, May and July, Nigeria’s air space has witnessed three major air mishaps involving military aircraft that claimed eminent people’s lives including the former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Attahiru who died at age 54 in a fatal plane crash which occurred on May 21,2021,four months after his appointment. Attahiru, died in the crash along 10 others including top military officers, aids and crew.

On February 22, Nigerian military plane, King Air350, took off from Abuja Airport but reported engine failure, according to media reports, while trying to return back to the airport on account of the failure, it exploded killing all seven people on board.

The two fatal crashes, if not that they involved military aircraft, would have required huge compensations in form of claims from insurance companies because of the status of the victims and the fact that aviation insurance is such a compulsory requirement that regulators hardly wink at in the discharge of their duties.

But military aircraft are not handled by insurance companies; rather, government takes care of the dependents of the deceased.

But this has not and cannot immune insurance operators from huge claims that emanate when commercial aircraft is involved in a crash.

For the commercial aircraft, claims from air crash is so enormous and often very controversial that it rakes up emotions and endangers the goodwill of the insurance companies involved if the compensation for the relatives of the victims of the accident is not well managed.

The claims are so huge that if the business is not adequately spread by the lead insurer among other insurers, the claim is capable of bringing down the insurance company, not withstanding its financial strength.

Where the victims are not adequately compensated, the criticism from the public is also capable of sending the airline operator out of business.

Expectations from Victims

Indeed, aviation insurance is one class of insurance business that has so much exposed the insurance sector and its operators to public criticism erroneously or constructively.

This is because aviation risk, when it occurred, attracts much public concern and sympathy. The public could be curious and anxious to know the outcome. The empathy it attracts is overwhelming. It appeals to people’s emotion who would want to know if the relatives of the victims of the crash are well compensated for the loss of the lives of their loved ones. In the case of fatal accidents, the relatives of deceased often inundate the airline operator and its insurers with huge claim filings.

Both the airline operator and the accident victims’ expectations on insurance company concerned are always very high. In the past, there has not been accident claim in Nigeria that was amicably settled. The settlements were usually dogged by controversy because of the high expectation of the relatives of the victims of the crash. But there are standard compensation enshrined in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations. But sometimes some relatives of the crash victims sue to kick against the claim, considered to be less than what could compensate for the death of their loved ones.

Regulation on Claims and Travellers Ignorance

Experts in aviation business said as emotional as any air mishap is, there are both local and international regulations that guide aviation insurance contract just like every other contract and these regulations cannot be violated in demanding for or paying for damages incurred during the course of air trip.

They noted that contrary to this, most times, when there is air crash, the passengers are ignorant of limit of their claims and quantum of claims, which the premium they paid can give to them.

Similarly, industry observers said in most cases, the insurance companies, take advantage of the ignorance of the passengers on their claims right to underpay them perhaps having charged very low premium from the airline operator in order to grab the business from other insurers racing for the same business.

According to the observers, the problem stems from the fact that air passengers, neglect reading these aviation insurance rules and regulations written at the back of their passenger tickets and the result is that when the unforeseen happens, argument follows either because the victims or their relatives in case of death are making wrong claims or some mischievous airline operators and their insurers want to take advantage of ignorance of the victims to short pay their claims.

Insurers’ Perspective

Insurance experts said aviation insurance is one of the technical classes of insurance business.

According to them, it is so technical that insurance managers themselves regard it as not for all comers in the business and that requires well experienced, highly technical and thorough breed professionals who specialise in the business to handle it.

According to them, insurance claims and compensation is part of aviation business, which is mainly international in nature. Aviation insurance is effected in the international market more than any other branch of insurance.

“This is why knowledge of laws governing air transport and aviation insurance in various countries both locally (Nigeria) and internationally is important to keep abreast of changes in this class of business.

“People fly both locally and internationally and therefore the question now is in the event of loss or death of a passenger, which law will be applicable for purposes of jurisdiction,” one of the insurance experts who spoke to THISDAY asked.

They noted that since after the First World War, there was very rapid advancement in aeronautical engineering. According to them, today, the size and type of aircraft in operation is unimaginable.

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