In a setback to the relatives of the 158 people killed in last year's Mangalore air crash, the Kerala high court on Thursday set aside a single judge order directing Air India to pay a minimum compensation of Rs 75 lakh each to them.
A division bench of justices C N Ramachandran Nair and P S Gopinathan held that AI was liable to pay only actual damages proved by the claimants in case of death and the victims in case of injury.
The liability can be determined through negotiated settlement or by civil court of competitive jurisdiction, the bench held, allowing an appeal filed by Air India.
The national carrier as a matter of goodwill should offer a "reasonable minimum", even if the actual damages payable in law is low, so that unnecessary litigation can be avoided, the bench observed. If no settlement is possible, actual damages can be determined by the civil court.
The bench directed AI to pay compensation reasonably estimated by the attorneys irrespective of whether there is settlement or not. The court also dismissed an appeal by Abdul Salam and Ramla, parents of victim B M Mohammed Rafi seeking higher compensation.
An angry Salam, a fisherman from Kasaragod district, refused to comment on the judgement. His 24-year-old son Rafi, working in Dubai, was coming home a month after his sister's wedding when the mishap occurred.
Meanwhile, their counsel Kodoth Sreedharan said they would move the Supreme Court. The provisions in statute ignores the principle of no fault liability incorporated in modern statutes and goes beyond fundamental principles of interpretation of statute, he said.
158 passengers and crew on board the AI aircraft from Dubai were killed when it caught fire after one of its wings hit a hillock before landing at Kenjar in Mangalore in May 2010.