GREAT BAY—A legal expert is arguing that the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) or even the Government of St. Maarten could be liable for the death of a 57-year-old woman from New Zealand who tragically lost her life at Maho Beach. She was blown away by the jet blast of a departing Boeing 737 and reportedly hit her head on the concrete slab on the side of the road and died. Richie Kock of Richiekock Advocaten/Attorneys in Aruba. The incident became international news. According to Kock in an article on his LinkedIn page on the weekend, the signs on the fence warning thrill seekers about the dangers of the jet blast may not be enough to abdicate airport management from the responsibility of the tourist’s death. He referred to the Case Hartmann vs PJIAE in 2000 where a tourist received injuries resulting from jet blasts in the same area. Kock explained that in the year 2000, a Swiss woman (Hartmann) was standing at the fence. The jet blast from a KLM airplane caused her to be blown away landing her on a concrete block from which she sustained serious physical injuries.
“Hartmann argued that the airport was liable for not creating a safe environment. According to Hartmann, the placement of signs (which at the time read ‘Warning! Low flying and departing aircraft blast can cause physical injury’) were not sufficient to deter people from standing at the fence,” Kock argued in his article. “The Highest Court introduced a new standard in order to determine if and when a warning is considered an adequate measure in (potentially) dangerous situations. According to the Highest Court, it is essential whether the warning (sign) effectively causes people to act (or not to act) in such a way as to avoid the danger. The Highest Court concluded in the favor of Hartmann and decided that the signs did not meet the newly introduced safety standard,” he added.
In this current case, Kock contended that the situation is no more safer now than it was in the year 2000 despite the added safety measures implemented by the PJIA. “The current situation would not meet the safety standard…The current signs seem to have no or very little deterrent effect. People keep flocking to the fence. The current warning signs indicate that the jet blast could cause serious bodily harm. However, it is not the jet blast that causes the harm. It creates the dangerous environment, but the concrete blocks on the road and the pavement are the actual culprits. There are no signs that warn against these obstacles,” the attorney said.
He said the concrete blocks on the road greatly contribute to the potential danger. “The jet blast causes people to flee to the beach. However, in order to reach the beach they have to jump over the concrete blocks and the pavement. A misstep may easily cause a person to trip and or fall. The chance of a misstep is further increased by the sandstorm caused by the jet blast, which reduces visibility,” Kock added.
Kock also suggested that Country St. Maarten could be liable due to negligence. “Negligence constitutes a wrongful act. In order to make the environment safer, the concrete blocks could be simply removed and replaced by something less dangerous. Accidents happen when people jump or trip over the blocks. They lose their balance and fall on the floor, or worse on the pavement. It is furthermore the responsibility of Country Sint Maarten to make the fence strictly off limits, either via legislation or otherwise,” Kock said.
Tourism Minister Melissa Arrindell-Doncher, the day after the incident in a statement said the family of the victim, admitted that it was dangerous to stand in the way of the jet blast and regret their actions, which caused the death of their family member. The incident has gotten international media attention, appearing on major US TV networks including CNN, ABC and CBS. Social media has been abuzz with local residents and persons overseas alike, debating the incident.