SAN FRANCISCO – A Chinese college professor who was injured on the July 6 Asiana flight 214 crash has filed a personal-injury lawsuit against the airline in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The plaintiff is one of the few non-U.S. nationals aboard the plane who have the right to the sue the Korea-based airline in U.S. Court.
Zhengheng Xie, who teaches at Shanghai University, was flying to the U.S. to visit his son, a South Bay resident, when the Boeing 777 crashed on its approach to San Francisco International. Investigators are trying to determine why the pilots failed to respond properly to the airplane’s dangerously slow speed and trajectory, causing the plane to lose its tail section and tumble down the runway in flames.
Mr. Xie broke his spine in the crash and remains in a body cast. He is among about 180 others who were injured. Three Chinese citizens, all teenage schoolgirls, were killed.
However, unlike Mr. Xie, most of the non-U.S. citizens aboard the flight will not be able to seek damages for injuries against Asiana in U.S. courts. That’s because a 1999 international treaty that restricts where lawsuits can be filed by passengers on international carriers. International passengers may sue an airline where it has its principal place of business or the country where the business is incorporated. In the case of Asiana, this would be South Korea.
The treaty also allows plaintiffs to file suit in their home country, at the place of the flight’s final round-trip destination, or where the ticket was purchased. Because Mr. Xie’s son bought the ticket in the U.S., Mr. Xie has the right to seek compensation through the U.S. court system instead of China or South Korea, where damage awards are usually both low and hard to obtain.
A lawyer representing Mr. Xie told the San Francisco Chronicle that Asiana 214 passengers have the right to sue Boeing, which manufactured the 777 in the United States, in U.S. courts, but that will be more difficult because the burden of proof falls on the plaintiffs’ lawyers. In suing the airline, he said, the burden of proof falls on Asiana to prove it wasn’t negligent in causing the crash.