Families of flight MH370 passengers file lawsuits against Malaysian Airlines and the government

Families of flight MH370 passengers file lawsuits against Malaysian Airlines and the government

The families of 12 passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 filed suits against the carrier on Friday (March 4), in a frantic rush to pursue claims before a two-year deadline for legal action expires.

Under the Montreal Convention, any court action to claim damages from an airline must be made within two years from the date the aircraft arrived or should have arrived. MH370 disappeared on its way to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 passengers and crew aboard.

Four family members each of two Ukrainian passengers, Oleg Volodymyrovych Chustrak and Sergii Grygorovych Deneika, filed suits in the Malaysian High Court against Malaysia Airlines Systems (MAS) for negligence.

“We have filed ten more today, this morning. Eight are Malaysians, one is a Russian national and one is a Chinese national, passengers, these are the passengers. The defendants, we’ve cited the same defendant in this suit this morning. Five defendants, MAS, MAB (Malaysia Airlines Berhad), Ketua Pandaran Jabatan, DCA (Department of Civil Aviation), The Royal Malaysia Air Force and the government of Malaysia,” said Sangeet Kaur Deo.

Sangeet, the lawyer who is representing Russian, Chinese and Malaysian families, said the families were seeking unspecified damages for negligence, breach of contract and breach of statutory duty.

The High Court on Friday also heard a bid by the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) to strike out a suit filed by two teenage children of Tan Ah Meng and Chuang Hsiu Ling, who were aboard flight MH370 with their eldest child, Tan Wei Chew.

In their striking out application, the government and MAB said the suit did not disclose reasonable cause of action and that it was “frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the court process”.

MAB also argued that it has no liability on MH370 as it was set up eight months after the plane disappeared.

The case is expected to be of interest to families concerned about the status of MAS, which has since seen its assets and operations transferred to MAB under a restructuring exercise.

In particular, the families are worried that by not naming MAB as a defendant, they would not be able to receive any damages or compensation from MAS even if they won the suit as MAS would not have any assets left to pay after the restructuring process is completed.

Sangeet, who is also representing the Tan family, declined to elaborate on specifics due to the pending case but acknowledged that the status of MAS was still in question.

“Except to say that the act is there, it transfers certain liabilities to MAB. I think a lot of people are concerned about the position and standing of MAS today and really how your suit going to fair if it’s only against a company which is currently in administration. Whether they are going to get anything at the end if you are suing a company that you know really is a shell at the moment,” she told reporters during a break at the hearing.

Multiple suits have been filed in the United States, Australian and Malaysian courts in the past few weeks and more are expected as the two-year deadline approaches.

International convention states that families are automatically eligible for around $160,000 in compensation per passenger.

While they can sue for more, many families have held out on pursuing claims in court because of the difficulty of holding any parties accountable for MH370’s disappearance.

A wing part recovered from Reunion island off Madagascar last year is the only debris from MH370 that has been found, but it offers little clues over what actually happened to the plane.

Australian lawyer Joseph Wheeler, who is acting for four Malaysian families, told French news agency AFP that total compensation could run into the “hundreds of millions” if successful.

Apart from Malaysian government bodies, MAS and MAB, the family suits have also named Malaysia Airlines’ insurance provider, Allianz and Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer as potential defendants.


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