Families mull lawsuits over missing Malaysian flight
Advice on legal action being sought from experts in China and overseas
Families of the Chinese passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner are seeking advice from domestic and overseas legal experts to prepare lawsuits.
A committee representing the families is in touch with the Ribbeck Law firm in Chicago about filing a group lawsuit against the airline, according to a member of the committee who works in France but has returned to China because his parents were on the plane.
The committee was set up last week at Beijing’s Metropark Lido Hotel to represent the interests of relatives of the 154 Chinese passengers on flight MH370.
The families are considering hiring a foreign law firm, but the committee is still seeking opinions from all relatives, said the member, who declined to be named.
Ribbeck Law has sent lawyers and assistants to Malaysia to arrange meetings with the passengers’ families as more of them seek legal recourse for the loss of their loved ones, the firm said on Thursday.
It said it expects to represent the families of more than half the passengers in a lawsuit against the airline and Boeing Co, the manufacturer of the aircraft, alleging the plane crashed due to mechanical failure.
Ribbeck Law has filed a petition for discovery against Boeing and Malaysian Airlines in Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois, United States. The petition is aimed at securing evidence of possible design and manufacturing defects that may have contributed to the plane crashing, the firm said.
The lawsuit, which will be filed soon, will seek millions of dollars in compensation for each passenger and ask Boeing to repair its entire 777 fleet, according to the firm, which is also representing 115 passengers on an Asiana Airlines flight that crashed in San Francisco in July, killing three teenage Chinese students.
But Robert F. Hedrick of Aviation Law Group PS in the US said there is typically at least one or two years before legal actions must be filed in the US. “Depending on the evidence that ultimately comes to light, many claims could settle without a lawsuit. There will be plenty of time to pursue legal claims,” he said.
Zhang Qihuai, vice-president of aviation law research for the China Law Society and also an experienced lawyer on aviation matters, said some families had talked to him about possible lawsuits.
An international search operation has been taking place in the suspected crash area for the past five days.
A Thai satellite has located about 300 objects floating in the ocean, and Tokyo also said a Japanese satellite has spotted suspicious objects possibly related to the missing plane. However, none of the objects has been found or confirmed to be debris from the plane.
Zhang said that under normal circumstances the families could file a lawsuit after conclusions are made about a crash. But as the circumstances surrounding flight MH370 are so special and as Malaysia has announced that the plane crashed, the families can turn to the courts now.
Defendants could include the airline, aircraft builder and engine manufacturers.
The families can choose different countries in which to file suits, such as the destination of the flight, the airline’s home country and that of the aircraft manufacturer, said Zhang, indicating China, the US, Malaysia and possibly Australia, if the aircraft is found in its territory.
He said the amount of compensation varies from country to country.
Generally speaking, the US has the highest compensation payment, at about $5 million per passenger, while the figure in China is between 1.2 million ($193,000) and 1.5 million yuan. In Malaysia, it is between $300,000 and $500,000, he said.
But lawsuit costs in different countries also vary, Zhang said.
Liu Weimin, director of the Civil Aviation Management Institution of China’s Aviation Law Research Center, said the families can ask for more if the airline was responsible for a crash. Contact the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. cn. Reuters and Chen Jia contributed to this story.
The Chinese ship Donghaijiu101 heads for the eastern part of the southern Indian Ocean where Australia spotted floating objects that might be related to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. It’s one of the three ships heading for the waters. Five Chinese vessels have arrived in the search area, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. Synergy between Chinese air and sea search efforts will be strengthened as more vessels arrive in the waters.