A federal judge has ruled that families of passengers killed when a Korean Air Lines jumbo jet was shot down by a Soviet fighter five years ago can seek damages of more than $75,000 per passenger. All 269 people on board were killed.
U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr., in a 58-page decision Monday, said KAL "has failed to carry its burden of persuading the court that there are no disputed material issues of fact."However, Robinson said there was sufficient evidence of "willful misconduct" on the part of the crew of Flight 007, which was shot down on Sept. 1, 1983 after violating Soviet air space over the Sea of Japan.
He also said the families "will have to prove that the deviation and resulting destruction of the aircraft were caused by KAL's willful misconduct" and KAL will have no "burden" of proving, or even suggesting, any innocent explanation for the accident.
"All that is determined here is that inferences suggested by (the families) have a foundation in the evidence and are not unreasonable as a matter of law," Robinson said. "Therefore . . . a reasonable jury could find that it is more probable than not that the crew's willful misconduct caused decedents' deaths."
Robinson rejected KAL's request to limit the damages to $75,000 per passenger. Under international law, an air carrier's liability is limited to $75,000 per passenger unless the carrier is guilty of willful misconduct.