Sharks circling Hudson landing

When US Airways ponied up $5,000 a passenger for the passengers of Flight 1549, most seemed skeptical. Commenter Bill opined, “I’m guessing those $5000 checks won’t stop any lawsuits.” A recent story in USA Today confirms this view. And, of course, lawyers have been contacted.

Joe Hart wants his bloody nose and bruises “made whole.” The salesman from Charlotte also says it’s too soon to know what emotional distress he has endured. So, while a hero is lauded, Hart is telegraphing his intentions.

According to US Airways, the $5,000 checks were for “immediate needs” that passengers may have and were not intended to mitigate the risk of litigation. Some say this isn’t enough. Gail Dunham, executive director of the National Air Disaster & Alliance Foundation, a safety advocate, remarks, “We’re grateful everyone survived, and the captain on the plane was so marvelous.” She notes, however, that passengers have lost important personal effects, such as briefcases, cell phones, BlackBerrys and business documents.

Oh, and they “and went through a terrific ordeal.”

The fact that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may need the recovered personal items for several weeks or more in order to determine their weights does not seem to be a priority for Dunham. Safety, I guess, should take a back seat to remuneration.Several passengers, including Hart, claim that they had more than $5,000 in personal items on the plane. The fact that (a) the check is intended to be a stopgap measure and (b) that it is not intended to stem lawsuits does not seem to have entered into Hart’s thinking (or Dunham’s). Before passengers can be compensated fully, US Airways needs to know what’s been lost … which can’t happen until the NTSB has finished its safety-related exercise.

For some, future lives aren’t as important as adjusting payouts in excess of $5,000.

Even with the entire process beholden to the NTSB’s review, US Airways Vice President Jim Olson has noted that passengers are being contacted by an insurance claims specialist and that they will be reimbursed as necessary above the $5,000 threshold. Per the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines are only liable for up to $3,300 per passenger for lost or damaged checked bags (on domestic flights). They tend to disclaim liability for carry-ons unless someone on the flight crew has a hand in stowing the bag.

Interestingly, anybody who has not suffered a financial loss of less than $5,000 probably won’t be asked for a refund. I love to pick on the airlines, but this seems downright reasonable!

Several passengers have reached out to Kreindler & Kreindler, a plaintiff firm that specializes in crashes. Attorneys from the firm are looking into the injuries and emotional distress sustained by passengers.

[Via USA Today, photo by jkrums via twitpic]