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MH370 Lawsuit? The Legal Rights of the Victims’ Families

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Malaysia PlaneAs the investigation continues—with no resolution in sight—the victims’ families have already raised the possibility of an MH370 lawsuit. Attorney and legal analyst AnneElise Goetz looks at how a lawsuit might work and what type of compensation is expected for the families.

The unknown aspects of the Malaysia Air tragedy have created a living nightmare for many of the passengers’ family members. Although it is still early, it won’t be long until families start pointing fingers and filing lawsuits. So, in this post, I’ll be providing answers to those family members—not to the questions they’re asking now, but to the ones they’ll be asking in the upcoming months and years.

Who could be on the financial hook for the Malaysia Air tragedy?

The most likely defendant in any lawsuit is the airline itself. They could be liable for the actions of the pilots, the plane, the security, the maintenance of equipment, etc. When lawsuits start showing up on the courthouse steps, the common defendant will be Malaysia Air.

Additionally, the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, and the plane’s engine manufacturer, Rolls Royce, will probably be included as defendants, if there is proof that the tragedy was a result of some mechanical issue with the plane.

How much might each family receive?

According to the Montreal Convention Treaty, the families of victims are entitled to up to $150,000 per victim, and that amount is to be paid by the applicable airline. In the past, we’ve seen different airlines pay anywhere from $20,000 a person to $160,000 a person. Typically, the airline pays this amount pretty quickly after the loss of life has been confirmed. For example, in the 2009 Air France flight disappearance, the airline started paying the families of passengers just days after the plane disappeared.

For those of you thinking the dollar figures above are WAY TOO LOW to be correct, remember that this is a statutory amount provided by the Montreal Convention, and does not include other potential legal claims against the airline. To the extent families can find their way into the American court system, they will likely try to avail themselves of our lucrative plaintiffs’ rights and payouts.

Will the victims’ families be able to sue in American or European countries, or are they stuck with the (less friendly) Malaysian and Chinese judicial systems?

A family would be able to collect far more in damages for the loss of a daughter’s or father’s life in America than they would in Malaysia or China—neither of which are known for being plaintiff-friendly, civil litigation systems. But how can they potentially get around the fact that Malaysia Air is a Malaysian company, and the flight was traveling to China?
Again, the Montreal Convention is consumer friendly in this regard. The treaty permits a victim’s family to choose the country in which they want to file the lawsuit and they can select: (i) the country where the airline is based; (ii) the country of the victim’s residence; or (iii) the country of the ultimate travel destination (i.e. if Beijing was a connecting flight to another country, they could sue in that final country). As a result, the three Americans and nine Europeans would be able to sue in their home country (a far more favorable alternative to China or Malaysia).

Also, in the event there is any evidence that the Malaysia Air tragedy was a result of mechanical or operational failure of the plane, then all of the victims’ families will likely sue Boeing, a United States corporation. This is important, because it will be a pathway for those families who otherwise don’t have any ties to the United States, thus availing themselves of America’s civil justice system.

How long will the victims’ families need to wait to file lawsuits?

The families are in a holding pattern until we learn more about what happened to Malaysia Air Flight 370. At this point, it is unclear whether the plane crashed at all and, in fact, the passengers may be alive and well on a desert island somewhere.

Realistically, the families will need to wait until there is more information about the circumstances causing the accident. It will be difficult to prove that they are owed any compensation until the plane is found and we have a better idea of who or what was at fault for the tragedy.

For more information on MH370, check out:

By AnneElise Goetz for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit AnneElise’s website at www.AnneEliseGoetz.com for more legal and life tips.

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