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Who is liable when a pilot deliberately crashes an airliner?

Airliners have been known to crash for a variety of reasons, including equipment failure, weather, pilot or traffic controller error, or terrorism. However the last thing a passenger expects to happen is to die in a plane crash because the pilot decided to commit suicide.

But as many of us will remember, that happened on March 24, 2015, when co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked himself in the cockpit of a Germanwings flight between Barcelona and Dusseldorf. It is believed that he deliberately crashed it into the French Alps, killing himself and 149 people.

Subsequent investigations indicated that Lubitz was treated for suicidal tendencies before he became a commercial airline pilot. Evidence suggests that the co-pilot was mentally ill and was obsessed by the idea that he was going to lose his pilot's license because of vision loss.

The question arises, who is at fault? The answer to that question often depends on the jurisdiction and its prevailing law.

Lubitz hid his illness from Germanwings and Lufthansa, the company that owns the regional airline. Lufthansa is offering compensation to the surviving families above and beyond what is legally required. German law, however, does not allow for punitive damages or extensive discovery that is present in the United States.

On the other hand, the Lufthansa-run flight school in Arizona where Lubitz trained is subject to American law, which is why 80 of the families of the Germanwings victims are filing suit against it, represented by Kreindler & Kreindler LLP. The basis of the civil action is that the flight school had an obligation to investigate Lubitz's mental health and, having found that he suffered from a number of issues, should have denied him training and a pilot's license. The litigation is currently pending.

In the meantime, the crash is causing a number of regulatory reforms to be instituted. One such is that two crewmembers have to be in the cockpit at all times, thus preventing another pilot suicide. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spoh has proposed that airline pilots be subjected to random psychological testing, a measure now under consideration by the German government

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