During his Republic Day address last year, President Anthony Carmona used a phrase that immediately became part of this country’s lexicon. That term was “armchair journalist.”
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Verdict opens door to lawsuits against CAL
A US court ruling has now paved the way for Caribbean Airlines to be sued by passengers who were on board Flight BW 523 when it crash-landed in Georgetown, Guyana in 2011. On Thursday an online news site, Caribbean News Now, reported that the Eastern District Court in New York had ruled against CAL. Calls to CAL communications manager Clint Williams’s cellphone went unanswered. Questions were also e-mailed, but up to press time Thursday no response had been received.
The court found that Guyana is not a party to the Warsaw Convention, which is an international convention that regulates liability for international carriage of people, luggage, or goods. The ruling declared that the treaty, which places a cap on the amount of damages to be paid, does not govern the CAL case.
This effectively clears the way for CAL to be sued by passengers on the flight, which originated at NewYork’s JFK International Airport, to sue for emotional trauma and personal injury, and leaves the amount of damages to be awarded open to the court’s discretion. An investigation into the incident found that a pilot error led to the crash.
The news report said: “Caribbean Airlines, filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction claiming that Guyana is a party to the Warsaw Convention and that the US was not one of the specified forums in which an action against an air carrier could be brought under the Warsaw Convention.”
The local carrier contended that “Guyana is a party to the treaty because the United Kingdom ratified the Warsaw Convention on behalf of its colonies in 1935 when British Guiana—the predecessor to Guyana—was a British colony and that it did not need to take any further action when it became independent.” But Miner and Casey successfully argued that “Guyana never took formal actions to properly and effectively ratify or accede to the Warsaw Convention following its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966.”
Additionally they argued the governments of Poland, the United States, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation do not list Guyana as a “High Contracting Party” to the Warsaw Convention.
On July 30, 2011, at 1.30 am, the Boeing 737-800 crashed and broke into two on landing at Guyana’s Cheddi Jagan airport. The plane came to a stop just before it went over a 200-foot ravine. Several of the 157 passengers were injured but there were no deaths. Guyanese citizen Noel Elliot of Washington, DC, suffered a broken leg and had to be flown back to New York, where his leg was later amputated.
The claim against CAL
The Caribbean News Now report said Colson Hicks Eidson attorneys Curtis Miner and Stephanie Casey filed several lawsuits against CAL on behalf of Rajendra Persaud, 64, and Prampatie Persaud, 64, who live in Florida, Shanti Persaud, 34, and her two children, ages ten and seven, of Guyana, were all passengers on Flight BW 523 and suffered personal injuries when the plane overshot the runway and broke in half. The complaint asserts common-law negligence claims and claims for damages under the Warsaw Convention.
What the ruling means
The report quotes Miner as commenting on the outcome: “This ruling is significant as it allows us to move forward with pursuing our claims against the airline in the United States and seek damages for the plaintiffs who suffered from severe emotional distress as a result of this accident. The ruling may also impact airlines that fly between Guyana and the United States in that claims of passengers who fly roundtrip from Guyana will not be covered by the Warsaw Convention, which is seen as being protective of airlines over passengers.”