In all, the South Korean government agency that regulates that country's insurance industry expects Asiana's insurers to pay out about $175.5 million total — $131 million to replace the plane and another $44.5 million to passengers and the city of San Francisco for damage to the airport. Suh Chang-suk, an official at Financial Supervisory Service, declined to discuss how the watchdog agency calculated its estimate.
The international treaty is commonly referred to as the Montreal Convention because of the Canadian city where it was drafted. It offers international passengers five options for where to seek compensation: where they live, their final destination, where the ticket was issued, where the air carrier is based and the air carrier's principal place of business.
Foreign passengers who had roundtrip tickets to final destinations beyond the U.S. face stiff legal challenges to pursue their claims against the airline in the United States, where courts are more receptive to lawsuits and the payouts larger than in the courts of most other nations.
Asiana can also invoke the America legal doctrine of "forum non conveniens" to argue that it's much more convenient for it to litigate the Asian victims' cases in Asia because all parties are based there.
South Korean attorney Suh Dong Hee represented some of the victims of the 1997 Korean Air Lines crash. He said family members of the victims who pursued their case in the United States settled for as much as 100 times more than those who sued in South Korea.
Brian Havel, director of DePaul University's International Aviation Law Institute, said the convention does require the airlines to make immediate "down payments" to victims to help with medical expenses, travel costs and other inconveniences caused by the crash.
"Everyone will get something," Havel said. "But who receives what does largely depend on where they qualify under the convention."