On  4  March  2015,  the Venezuelan  First  Instance  Maritime-Aviation Court  (the “Court”) found partially in favour of LG and YG (the “Claimants”) in their claim for Moral Damages against C-YV246C (the “Defendant”) for the death of their son (the “Victim”) who  was  being carried  gratuitously on  board the Defendant's private aircraft  when it crashed  in  Colombian  territory  on 13 January 2007 (the “Accident”) during the course of an international private flight.

The Court awarded damages for the amount equivalent to 10.000 Special Drawing Rights (Approx. USD13.800,00) as a compensation for the death of the Victim in the Accident.

In  its ruling  the Court confirmed  the  liability  regime applicable to owners of aircraft of private use  (private  aircraft)  in  the event  of damages caused to passengers carried gratuitously for any cause. The judgement also confirmed that when the facts causing the damage  are expressly regulated by the Venezuelan Civil Aviation Law, no moral damages can be awarded.

In a nutshell, the Court held in its decision that:

Liability  of  private  aircraft  owners  is  strict  and not  only  arises  from  a contract of carriage by air, but also from the carriage per se, regardless of the reason why the carriage is performed;
Liability  of  private  aircraft  owners  for  damages  caused  to  gratuitously carried passengers as a result of an accident or incident that took place on board the private  aircraft or during the course of any operation of embarking  or  disembarking is limited to SDR100.000 (Special Drawing Rights) which equates to approximately USD138.000,00;
No claim for moral damages under the aforementioned circumstances are admitted;
Private  aircraft  owners  can  exclude  or  reduce  their  liability  if  they  prove that:

They ignored the causes that resulted in the damaging accident or incident;
There were no detectable signs of it; and
They  could  not  avoid  the  accident  or  incident  in  spite  of  having taken all necessary measures for that purpose;

In order for liability of private aircraft owners to be triggered, the claimant must only demonstrate:

That  the  victim  was  on  board  the  aircraft  or  in  the course  of  any operation of embarking or disembarking;
The loss causing the damage, that is, the accident or incident;
the  direct  connection  between  the  damaging  accident or incident and the damage itself (Causation);

Claimants bear the burden of proving the quantum of their claim;
Under the “iura novit curia” principle whereby “the court knows the law”, damage claims grounded on legal provisions other than those contained in the Venezuelan Civil Aviation Law, can still be admittted and awarded;
The  prescription  period  for  claims  arising  out  of  damages  caused  to gratuitously carried passengers as a result of an accident or incident that took place on board a private aircraft or during the course of any operation of embarking or disembarking, is 3 years pursuant  to  Article  107  of  the Venezuelan Civil Aviation Law;
This  prescription period can  be validly interrupted by registering the lawsuit and  its  subpoena in  the way set forth  in  Article  1.969 of theVenezuelan Civil Code;
The liability  regimes  contained  in  the  Warsaw  Convention  1929  and  the Warsaw  Convention  as  Amended  by  the  Hague  Protocol 1955  are  not applicable to gratuitous carriage by air on board aircraft of private use;

Although owners of private aircraft can benefit from the limits of liability set forth in Article 100 of the Venezuelan Civil Aviation Law, it is uncertain whether this benefit would be lost in the cases where negligence or willful misconduct on the part of the private aircraft owner, its director(s), servant(s) or employee(s) appears as the direct cause of the damaging accident or incident, pursuant to Article 106 of the Venezuelan Civil Aviation Law.

Under  a  literal  construction  of  the  language  of  said  Article  106,  the  benefit  of limited  liability  in  the cases  of  gratuitous carriage  by air  on board  aircraft of private use should, in principle, prevail. The main reason being that the wording of said  Article 106  indicates that  it  is  intended to apply  to  aircraft  operators engaged  in  air  transport  services  in  whose category non-commercial  private aircraft owners do not fall.

The First Instance Maritime-Aviation Court that rendered the decision is the only court with jurisdiction to hear aviation related matters in Venezuela.

The ruling has been appealed by the Defendant and the file is currently in  the Superior Court awaiting revision.