The December 15, 2021 crash of a Gulfstream IV SP jet in the Dominican Republic is likely to give rise to the application of the Montreal Convention with regard to passenger claims against the operator, apparently Helidosa Aviation Group, says Robert Hedrick, an aviation attorney with Aviation Law Group PS in Seattle.
The aircraft, registration HI1050, was bound for Miami, in the United States of America. The aircraft had taken off a short time before from La Isabela Airport and crashed approximately 23 miles away while attempting to divert to primary international airport Santo Domingo (SDQ). The aircraft was operated by Helidosa Aviation Group, with a planned flight of 820 miles to Miami. One of the passengers on board was Jose A. Hernandez, commonly known as “Flow La Movie”.
The other victims include 6 passengers (Debbie Von Marie Jiménez García, Jayden Hernández, Kellyan Hernández Pena, Yeilianys Jeishlimar Meléndez Jiménez, Jassiel Yabdiel Silva and Veronica Estrella) and two crew members, Luis Alberto Eljuri and Victor Emilio Herrera.
This is the second crash of a Gulfstream IV in the Dominican Republic in less than 12 months. While the cause of the accident is unknown at moment, video taken shortly before the accident shows the aircraft on a rapid descent with its spoilers deployed. The Dominican Republic’s Comisión Investigadora de Accidentes de Aviación (CIAA) will lead the investigation into the crash.
What are the Legal Implications for an International Charter Flight under the Montreal Convention?
The Montreal Convention, formally known as the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules For International Carriage By Air, was adopted in 1999 by the International Civil Aviation Organization member states. It entered into force in 2003 in the United States and in 2007 for the Dominican Republic. It essentially provides the framework for passenger claims against operators arising from accidents that occur during commercial international air travel. The Helidosa flight appears to fit within the confines of the Convention.
Article 17 of the Convention sets forth the liability of the carrier for death to passengers, which is a nearly strict liability unless the carrier itself can prove no-fault or that another was solely at fault (Article 21), which may be nearly impossible to prove.
Passenger claimants must seek to obtain jurisdiction in the country with the most favorable laws and most favorable treatment for their claims, which is where the greatest return lies. Article 33 of the Convention provides jurisdiction in the home country or principal place of business of the carrier, but also includes two other jurisdictions: the country where the contract was made (if the carrier has a place of business there), and the place of destination per the passenger ticket. As per Article 33(1), it is the plaintiff’s option where to bring a legal action for damages if there is more than one available jurisdiction.
In the Dominican Republic accident, Mr. Hedrick believes that, depending on the underlying facts, there should be a strong case that jurisdiction for the passenger claims against the carrier should lie in the United States under Article 33.