SAN FRANCISCO -- When the courts have to figure compensation for people aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214, the potential payouts will probably be vastly different for Americans and passengers from other countries, even if they were seated side by side as the jetliner crash-landed.
An international treaty governs compensation to passengers harmed by international air travel, but the pact is likely to close U.S. courts to many foreigners, forcing them to pursue claims in Asia and elsewhere, where lawsuits are rarer and offer smaller payouts.
"If you are a U.S. citizen, there will be no problem getting into U.S. courts. The other people are going to have a fight on their hands," said Northern California attorney Frank Pitre, who represents two Americans who were aboard the plane.
Federal law bars lawyers from soliciting victims of air disasters for the first 45 days after the crash. Pitre said his clients called him.
Congress enacted that law in 1996 amid public anger over lawyers who solicited clients in the days immediately following the ValuJet Flight 592 crash in the Florida Everglades and the crash of TWA Flight 800 off eastern Long Island.
National Transportation Safety Board attorney Benjamin Allen reminded attorneys of the rules in a mass email sent Thursday. "We are closely monitoring the activities of attorneys following this accident, and will immediately notify state bar ethics officials and other appropriate authorities if impermissible activity is suspected," the message said.
The flight that broke apart July 6 at the San Francisco airport was carrying 141 Chinese, 77 South Koreans, 64 Americans, three Canadians, three Indians, one Japanese, one Vietnamese and one person from France when it approached the runway too low and too slowly. The Boeing 777 hit a seawall before skittering across the tarmac and catching fire.
Three girls from China were killed and 182 people injured, most not seriously.
Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, both 16, died right away. It was unclear whether Ye Mengyuan died in the crash or in the chaotic aftermath.
Both girls' parents appeared at a vigil Saturday near the airport, and thanked, through a translator, the more than 100 people in attendance for their support, KGO-TV reported.
Liu Yipeng, 15, died Friday in a hospital where she had been in critical condition.
The dozens who were seriously injured -- especially the few who were paralyzed -- can expect to win multimillion-dollar legal settlements, as long as their claims are filed in U.S. courts, legal experts said.