Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished over the southern Indian Ocean 46 days ago. The milestone is a somber one because it now allows attorneys to move in. There’s a 45-day rule, enforced by the National Transportation Safety Board, that says American lawyers have to wait that long to reach out to a family that’s lost a loved one in a plane crash.
What it means is that families can now file suit in American courts against U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. The only problem — no wreckage has been found. It’s kind of like a murder case without a body. Some relatives of those on board the missing plane said they hope legal avenues can bring new information to light.
“We don’t feel we have a whole lot of other choices because we’re certainly not getting any answers without (legal action),” Sarah Bajc, partner of Flight 370 passenger Philip Wood, told CNN on Tuesday. The frustration among the families is that Malaysian officials give opinions, but no data, at their briefings. Legal pressure on the Malaysian government, Bajc said, might force it to release data it holds.
Attorneys have approached families about compensation lawsuits, but Bajc said the feeling among the relatives is that they do not want to file lawsuits of that type to chase money. Malaysia Airlines representatives and government officials had scheduled a meeting Tuesday with families of Chinese passengers in Beijing, but the session was postponed. Relatives were told some Chinese tech experts would probably talk to them instead.
It was the second day in a row they had been disappointed, which only added to their frustration. On Monday, the relatives wept, begged and cursed a Malaysian diplomat in China’s capital. They went to a meeting at a hotel there, expecting a long-awaited briefing from Malaysian technical experts, but erupted in anger when the diplomat announced there wouldn’t be one.
“We don’t know at this point whether they are alive or dead. And you haven’t given us any direct proof of where they actually are. We want our loved ones back,” a father of a missing passenger cried. Because of the plane’s flight path, most of the lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines would be filed in China or Malaysia. The families of the three Americans who were on board the Boeing 777 can also sue Malaysia Airlines in U.S. courts.
Kelly, an attorney at Ribbeck Law Chartered — a firm that specializes in aviation accident cases — said she believes based on her experience that families could receive between $400,000 and $3 million in damages. However, it could take two years before they see the money, she said.