Singapore Airlines may face hefty payout pressure after turbulent flight

PASSENGERS with spinal and brain injuries could seek eight-figure payouts, one lawyer said, as the extent of the harm following the Singapore Airlines Ltd. flight that encountered extreme turbulence becomes clearer.

Prior payouts for similarly severe injuries escalated “easily into seven and sometimes eight-figure claims,” Peter Neenan, a parter specialising in aviation litigation at London-based firm Stewarts, said in an interview.

Several dozen people suffered traumatic, and potentially life-changing, injuries, doctors revealed Thursday. Some patients encountered paralysis and 22 patients are being treated for spinal and spinal cord injuries. Another six are being treated for skull and brain trauma. A 73-year-old Briton died of a suspected heart attack.

The 229 crew and passengers on board Flight SQ321 were violently shaken by sudden and extreme turbulence over Myanmar as the Boeing Co. 777 aircraft was en-route from London to Singapore, forcing the jet to make an emergency landing in Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon.

Under the Montreal Convention, which governs aviation rights and compensation for international flights from death and injury to passengers after an accident, Singapore Airlines is liable for up to $170,000 per person.

However there can be scope for larger damages.

The level of compensation could only be set based on the outcome of an ongoing investigation into the flight, which could take years, Neenan said.

Legal arguments would necessarily scrutinize aspects including the planning of the flight, the degree and amount of weather information obtained and the actions of passengers and crew during, and in the moments before, the turbulent episode.

They may also take into account whether passengers were wearing their seatbelts at the time or not.

As of Friday, 48 people remain in three hospitals across Bangkok.

Singapore Airlines has already made some changes to its procedures as a result of this week’s incident.

In-flight meal services will now be halted when the seatbelt sign is switched on, in addition to the suspension of hot drinks, the airline said in a statement. Crew members will also return to their seats and strap themselves in. –BLOOMBERG