Specialist Aviation Lawyers Call For Changes To Minimum Indemnity Levels For Domestic Passengers
Passengers left seriously injured, or families of people killed in light aircraft crashes in the UK are at risk of not being able to access necessary compensation due to limitations in insurance requirements for private pilots.
Currently private operators of general aviation aircraft need insurance in case of anything going wrong but the minimum requirement for indemnity for passengers who are injured or killed in a crash is too low.
This means they could face missing out on necessary compensation from the insurers which would cover the costs of specialist treatment, therapy and care to help them recover and live independently following any serious injuries. In the event of a passenger dying, their families could miss out on funds to pay the mortgage and cover lost earnings.
Now specialist aviation lawyers at Irwin Mitchell are calling for an increase to the minimum passenger indemnity in all policies to protect victims of crashes.
Compulsory aviation insurance was introduced on 30 April 2005 for all UK registered aircraft of which there are around 20,000. At the time of writing, the minimum cover for each passenger is the equivalent to just £107,182, whilst the third party insurance minimum indemnity is the equivalent to £803,866.
More expensive insurance premiums provide for a “Combined Single Limit”, where the sums for third party and passenger liability are combined to create a larger fund for claims to rely on, with a minimum indemnity of £911,048. However, for a small aircraft with room for one passenger, the cheapest premiums are likely to only have the minimum amount of cover necessary in law for passenger liability – just £107,182.
However the nature of an aviation accident means a crash could have significant consequences and the current minimum is unlikely to be adequate for most families of passengers killed in such an incident. The costs of care and treatment for people left with severe injuries can run into the £100,000s, or millions in the case of brain and spinal injuries – especially if the person injured is unable to return to work.
If the indemnity insurance is not enough to cover the value of a case then the person responsible for the accident or their estate could face direct claims to make up the shortfall. But where there is not enough money or assets, then the injured passenger or their family could be left severely undercompensated.
Expert Opinion“The simple problem is that the limit on the amount of indemnity cover needed for passengers has not changed in more than a decade, and in fact wasn’t even high enough at the time it was introduced.
“Someone injured in a light aircraft crash would be lucky to escape without serious injuries, some of which can be life-changing. For someone left with brain and spinal injuries or amputations it may mean they can’t return to work and if they have families to look after then just over £100,000 is clearly inadequate. In the event of a fatal accident, a family who is left having to pay a mortgage and other general living costs after losing the main breadwinner would also struggle on the current minimum amount.
“In these circumstances the families will have to pursue the person responsible direct, but if they don’t have the assets to cover the claim then it is very difficult. Often the pilot can be a family member or close friend too.
“We’ve got several examples of people who have been left hugely undercompensated because of minimum indemnity levels being so low and where bringing a case against the pilot has not been possible. They are left struggling to move on with their lives and we call on the government to raise the minimum indemnity level for passengers.” Peter Lorence - Senior Associate Solicitor
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One case run by Irwin Mitchell involved Lawrence Sumner, a 66-year-old passenger killed in a microlight crash. The case was valued in excess of £500,000 for his remaining family, but the settlement value was capped due to the deceased Defendant - who was piloting the microlight - only having a limit of indemnity for passengers of £125,000.
The Deceased’s estate could have been pursued to contribute to the full case value, but the estate’s value was very limited. Fortunately for the passenger’s widow, Patricia, her husband was semi-retired and his pension was able to provide financial security, but if the case had involved a young couple and the main breadwinner been killed, the widow would still have only recovered a maximum of £125,000, which would be insufficient and provide little financial certainty for the future with a mortgage or rent, general living costs and children to look after.
Lawrence Sumner, commonly known as Mike, died aged 66 on May 30 2016 along with the pilot when the RANS S6 Coyote II aircraft they were flying in crashed in a field on the outskirts of Shifnal Airfield in Shropshire as it attempted to land. A jury inquest in 2017 heard that the pilot was flying too slowly and was incorrectly positioned as he attempted to approach the airfield, resulting in him losing control of the aircraft.
His widow Patricia Sumner, 69, from Market Drayton, said: “Not a day goes by when we do not think about Mike and the entire family misses him so much.
His daughter, Emma Roberts, said: “It seems so strange to us that the insurance limits for passengers are so low. Whilst my mum is nearing her retirement and it’s less important for her, there will be other families where passengers injured or killed are earning the vast majority of money in the family. I can’t begin to imagine how they would cope with something like this. Something needs to change as the minimum limits are clearly inadequate.”