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Legal Eye: Compensation for loss

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Everything about the tragic airplane crash in Smolensk, including the actions taken and decisions made as a consequence, has been rife with controversy.

Your author learned long ago not to stir up an anthill (the hard way, unfortunately). With that lesson still painfully in mind, I’ll stick closely to the relatively uncontroversial issue of compensation for the families of those who perished.


The law attempts to clarify who might be responsible if someone dies in a tragic accident. The relevant law in this case looks to the “intrinsic possessor.” This legalese means that whether or not you are the actual owner, you sure act like you are.

Every intrinsic possessor of a motor vehicle may be held liable for the damage caused by the vehicle. This general rule of law applies as equally to my Toyota Prius as it does to a presidential Tupolev Tu-154 airplane. If that vehicle is involved in an accident, the intrinsic possessor only has a couple of statutory excuses to avoid liability, including force majeure or when someone else was the sole cause of the accident.

This rule is limited to motorized vehicles used for transport. Accidents involving tractors, bulldozers, skate boards, horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and the like, are not covered by this rule. However, other negligence rules could apply to incidents involving these vehicles.


One of the few facts that everyone seems to agree on is that the intrinsic possessor of the presidential airplane is the State Treasury. Thus, the families of the victims of the Smolensk tragedy could consider bringing claims against it.

Earlier this year, a proposal was announced to grant compensation of zł.250,000 to each close family member of a victim. It has been criticized both for the form in which the proposal was made and the amount offered. The basis for the compensation proposal however, is straight-forward.

In 2008, an addition was made to the Polish Civil Code’s list of claims that may be brought against the person responsible in the event of a victim’s death. The intrinsic possessor of a motor vehicle involved in an incident qualifies as a person responsible.

It allows (but does not require) a court to award compensation to the close family members of a victim for their loss. There is no amount specified in this section. It is up to the judges to decide. In this case, the Public Prosecutor General made an offer to forestall going to court.

Related claims

Whether or not the families of those who perished in the Smolensk tragedy decide to accept the offer of compensation, they do have other claims. While the compensation essentially serves to recognize the pain and suffering that the loss caused those family members, other provisions suffer to address specific financial problems.

This latter group of claims is meant to redress the financial burden put on the family because of the death of the victim. If the family’s standard of living will significantly deteriorate because of the death, they may seek damages for their financial loss.

A dependent of the victim could seek maintenance payments to replace the financial support formerly supplied by the victim. Finally, the person responsible for the death may be required to reimburse the family for the victim’s medical and funeral costs.

Source: Judith Gliniecki, Warsaw Business Journal, 4th April 2011

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