Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Milestones: Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co., 516 U.S. 217 (1996)


Plaintiffs are family members of a decedent who died aboard the defendant airline's flight, which was shot down in the Soviet air space as it was traveling from Anchorage, Alaska to Seoul, Korea. In the proceedings below, the plaintiffs won the claim for loss of society (among other claims.) Korean Air Lines argued that the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) limited the recoverable damages, and also did not permit damages for loss of society. The Second Circuit found that the general maritime law (but not DOHSA) provided the substantive law of compensatory damages to be applied in an action under the Warsaw Convention, which governs the liability and damages for international flights.

The Supreme Court found that the national law determines what is a compensable harm under the Warsaw Convention. The court, however, found DOHSA was the applicable law rather than general maritime law.


Another fascinating airlines case. This one arises from one of the tragedies of the Cold War era, when a Korean Air Lines flight strayed into the Soviet airspace and was shot down. This was a huge news at the time, not the least because one of the casualties was a U.S. Congressman.

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