Lawyer warns against compensation offer after LATAM plane plunge

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Passengers affected by a plane malfunction, which caused a LATAM Airlines flight to suddenly plunge, have reportedly been offered more than $7500 in compensation but a law firm has warned against blindly signing anything official.

On March 11, LATAM Airlines flight LA800 was travelling from Sydney to Santiago via Auckland when it suddenly dropped an hour before landing, injuring about 50 passengers.

Ten passengers from Brazil, France, Australia, Chile and New Zealand, as well as three cabin crew members, were taken to hospital.

According to the airline, one passenger and a crew member required additional attention, however their injuries were not life-threatening.

Three weeks since the incident, the airline has reportedly offered some passengers ex gratia payments of between US$1500 (A$2298.30) to US$5000 ($7661.02), according to Carter Capner Law director Peter Carter.

Mr Carter, who has been engaged by some passengers, said he had advised them not to accept the “relatively small” offer if it came with conditions, or without receiving prior legal advice.

Conditions could include limitations on speaking to media, or ability to make future claims depending on the outcome of the investigation.

“Passengers should ensure that any acceptance of a relatively small payment now doesn’t prejudice other rights they may have to compensation,” he said.

“Passengers who have contacted us have a range of injuries from moderate to severe, and some of these people may be eligible for far more significant compensation if the airline is found to be at fault.

“I don’t expect LATAM to attempt to waive passengers’ rights but I’d be negligent if I didn’t advise passengers to be cautious and seek legal advice before signing anything that may affect their rights to future compensation.

“We’ve seen instances in the past where this has happened.”

If the investigation, currently undertaken by New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission and Chile’s General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics, finds the airline was at fault, passengers could be liable for further compensation, Mr Carter said.

“In this case, we may be able to make a claim against Boeing or the system supplier, which would then include pure emotional and psychological injuries,” he said.

While he acknowledged claims took “time to fully investigate,” he urged passengers not to “prejudice their rights to future claims” with compensation offers made before a decision was delivered.

One passenger Brian Jokat previously told New Zealand broadcaster RNZ the plane “just dropped,” without any signs of pre-turbulence.

While he had his seatbelt on, a passenger who didn’t was thrown into the air, before they came crash down onto their seats.

“I thought I was dreaming,” he said.

“I opened my eyes and he was on the roof of the plane on his back, looking down on me. It was like The Exorcist.”

Mr Jokat claimed that after the incident, the pilot told him a technical glitch had occurred.

“I asked him what happened and he said to me, ‘I lost my instrumentation briefly and then it just came back all of a sudden’,” Mr Jokat told RNZ.

“I know he felt really bad for everyone.”

LATAM Airlines have been contacted for comment.