On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the shore of Long Island, New York. Schaden, Katzman Lampert aviation lawyers, as a member of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, represented several of the victims and their families in airplane crash cases related to the fatal incident. The manufacturer of the 747 aircraft, The Boeing Aircraft Company, asserted that the cause of the 1996 plane crash was a missile of unknown origin. Plaintiffs and their experts conducted extensive research and concluded that the cause of the airplane crash was an explosion in the center fuel tank of the aircraft. The Plaintiffs’ experts and aviation attorneys arrived at this theory after examining physical evidence of the aircraft’s remains recovered from the ocean floor and conducting a number of investigations, studies and analysis.
Initially, Boeing and the other defendants made repeated attempts to limit all passengers’ recovery under The Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”). If DOHSA applied to the plane crash lawsuit, i.e., if the crash occurred on the “high seas,” the passengers’ estates and survivors’ ability to recover for the loss of their loved ones would have been severely limited.
Plaintiffs argued that the “high seas” as referred to in DOHSA refers to those waters beyond the territorial waters of the United States. In 1988, Presidential Proclamation 5928 extended the territorial waters of the United States to 12 nautical miles from the shore of the United States. Thus, because the crash occurred in United States territorial waters, the Plaintiffs argued that the airplane crash could not have occurred on the “high seas.” The defendants on the other hand argued that “high seas” means all waters beyond “a marine league” (approx. 3 miles) from the shore of the United States. Fortunately, the Second Circuit agreed with the Plaintiffs of TWA Flight 800, who received large settlement awards shortly thereafter.
The National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) conducted its Sunshine Hearing on August 22 and 23, 2000, wherein the NTSB discussed its draft Final Report concerning the 1996 plane crash. The NTSB concluded that there was a center fuel wing tank explosion and that “[a] short circuit producing excess voltage that was transferred to the center wing tank fuel tank quantity indication system wiring is the most likely source of ignition energy for the TWA Flight 800 center wing tank explosion.”