On 17 July, it will be five years since Flight MH 17 was shot down by a Russian missile over the sunflower fields of the Ukraine on 17 July 2014, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew.

The Joint Investigation Team into the crash presented a detailed analysis on 19 June 2019, as a result of which the Dutch Public Prosecutors Office has enough evidence to commence prosecutions.

But what about compensation for the victims’ families?

Their claims for compensation have been making their way slowly through the Australian courts.

On 26 June 2019, the date set for the hearing of the MH 17 class action, the Court was told the claims had been settled, on terms not to be disclosed.

The Court was asked to approve the settlement reached by the families of 12 of the Australian passengers killed with Malaysian Airlines. They accepted a confidential settlement payment, which the presiding judge, Justice Perram cryptically described as ‘whilst not especially large, is not small or trivial either’.

With a bit of detective work, it is possible to hazard a guess that the families were paid about $200,000 each (before legal fees).

This is how the compensation payment was worked out:

  • In claims for compensation to relatives, there are two kinds of amounts payable. The first is out of pocket expenses, such as funeral expenses, repatriation of the body and effects. The second is loss of income support for dependants, that is, from the wages or other income of the deceased. In this case, the loss of income claims must have been small.
  • You may well ask: What about compensation for nervous shock – on hearing of the crash? The answer is that there is no compensation for nervous shock in Australia.
  • The other factor is that the amount the airline was liable to pay is capped by the Montreal Convention at A$205,000. This cap applies to flights outside of Australia by non-Australian airlines. The cap if the crash occurred in Australia is much higher – presently $725,000.

The airline in this case, Malaysian Airlines, made the families go through the hoops in the court proceedings. It applied to the Court three times to either have the claim struck out, or to limit it. It is no wonder that after three years of court proceedings, the families were exhausted and agreed to settle, instead of going ahead with the hearing.

For my case note which analyses the proceedings, click Australian families settle with Malaysian Airlines for flight MH 17 fatalities

Anthony J Cordato, Travel Lawyer, Sydney