The millions of shillings to be paid for every life lost in the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash in March have started driving wedges between families who lost their relatives as they seek compensation.
As the families of the 32 Kenyans who died in the crash buried the remains of loved ones, who arrived in coffins in Nairobi on Monday, disputes over burial are arising, pointing to the bitter divisions concerning the cash due for the deceased.
The Saturday Nation’s interviews with various lawyers revealed that families will receive at least Sh32 million for each victim, without factoring in any court awards that may come due to cases filed in the United States.
The Sh32 million per victim comes from an offer of about Sh14.9 million from aeroplane manufacturer Boeing, which families have until December 31 to apply for.
On top of that, each deceased person is entitled to about Sh17 million by virtue of an international treaty governing air crashes.
The arrangement is known in aviation circles as the Montreal Convention. “It is basically an agreement between countries that agree to manage this type of cases the same way,” says US-based injury lawyer Adam Ramji, who is representing a number of families from Kenya and Ethiopia.
“For purposes of aviation accidents, air carriers are ‘strictly liable’ under the Montreal Convention. That is to say the companies are responsible for consequences even in the absence of fault or intent. The payment amount is roughly $170,000 (Sh17.6 million) per passenger,” he adds.
Besides the Sh32 million, most families have filed lawsuits against aeroplane manufacturer Boeing at the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.
This is likely to end in hefty awards as initial investigations point to Boeing’s failures, leading to the accident of the 737 Max 8 aeroplane.
Due to the substantive amounts due, divisions are emerging among families even at the initial stages.
One lawyer representing a number of Kenyan families, who requested anonymity so as not to breach confidentiality agreements, said there are vicious intra-family battles across Kenya.
“Monies involved are huge enough to trigger interests by members of these families,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer added that most of the conflicts have been caused by parents who are bent on receiving the compensation money at the expense of their sons- or daughters-in-law.
“Some of them have not even agreed where to bury their kin due to these differences,” the lawyer said.
In Nakuru County, for instance, a dispute arose as to who had the right to bury a woman who perished in the crash with her three children: Is it her father or her husband?
The woman, Caroline Quinns, was in the company of her children Ryan, Kelie, and Ruby and her mother Ann Wangui in the ill-fated flight.
Caroline’s widower Paul Njoroge and her father John Karanja were initially tussling over who had the right to bury her.
It was finally agreed that Mr Njoroge bury Caroline and their three children at his farm in Kiringai, which happened on Friday; while Mr Karanja interred the remains of his wife Ann at his farm in Kabatini on Thursday. Both homes are in Bahati constituency.
At the burial on Friday, Mr Njoroge read a poem by E.E. Cummings titled, “I carry your heart with me”, which he dedicated to his wife and children.
The Saturday Nation has learnt that there are two cases regarding the late Caroline in a US court — one filed by her father and another by her husband.
“I have filed for my wife and daughter while (my son-in-law) has filed for his wife and children,” said Mr Karanja.
He added that they have filed the cases through different law firms, which he did not want to disclose.
“We had to file through separate law firms so that each one of us can argue their own case.” He confirmed having received Sh5 million for the interment, saying it was from Boeing.
Families of those who died in the crash have less than two months to apply to administrators appointed by Boeing to release the Sh14.9 million for each life lost.
As applications go on, the court cases proceeding in Illinois have reached a critical stage.
In September, Boeing filed its preliminary response and reiterated its calls to have the families discuss the matter out of court.
“Boeing invites all plaintiffs to engage in direct settlement negotiations to resolve these matters,” it said through its lawyers.
“Because plaintiffs are entitled to recover compensatory damages only, Boeing respectfully submits that it is unnecessary to incur the lengthy delay and considerable expense associated with extensive discovery regarding liability issues,” Boeing argued through its lawyers.
Most Kenyan families have rejected Boeing’s out of court option, but their lawyers are encouraging them to take the Sh14.9 million-per-victim “Boeing Financial Assistance Fund” as the case progresses.
Only in court, argues Mr Ramji, can families show the worth of each of the people who perished and thus get compensation commensurate to the loss suffered. “After all the dust has settled, it is a mathematical calculation,” he said in a past interview.