Judgement of the Spanish Supreme Court in the “SPANAIR crash case”

The recent Judgement of the Supreme Court (The Civil Chamber) nº 1513/2019, of 17th of May 2019, brings to a close the issue on the assessment of personal injuries in aviation accidents as it states that, in the absence of assessment standards for personal injuries caused in aircraft accidents a compensation based on the existing legal scale for personal injuries caused in motor vehicle accidents is considered more appropriate.

The Judgement of the Supreme Court confirms the criterion of the Province (High) Court of Barcelona regarding the absence of two payable compensations accumulated for the same injury, an objective one and a subjective one. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court, disagreeing with the Province Court, considers that the Regulation nº 785/2004 does not pursue the quantification of damage to the victim nor it establishes the criteria of quantification. Its sole objective is to establish a minimum insurance coverage for a risky operation such as that of an air carrier. This damage should be evaluated in each Member State in accordance with their own criteria for assessment of damage since there are no Community rules that would provide a frame of assessment. This is consistent with the doctrine of case of law of the First Chamber of the Supreme Court that determines that recoverable damage is a damage that was suffered. Yet the judgement points out that the indicative use of the scale for car accidents for the quantification of the compensation of personal injuries does not prevent the application of corrective mechanisms depending on the circumstances involved in the sector of the activity to which this application is related. In case of death of a passenger in an aviation accident, its catastrophic nature and all other surrounding circumstances are such that it is reasonable that the compensation resulting from the application of the scale be increased by an additional percentage, which was set at 50% in this particular case.

Finally, the Supreme Court considered that the payment of interests of the article 20 of the Insurance Contract Act should be applicable to the insurance company of the airline since they were not contemplated as punitive damages but as delay interests, consequence of an action brought by the injured party directly against the insurer of the carrier.

This Judgement, in principle applicable to air transport, establishes criteria that are applicable by analogy to personal injuries in maritime transport.