US firm helping families of MH370 passengers to seek legal redress

Chicago-based law firm Ribbeck Law has sent lawyers and assistants to Malaysia to set up meetings with the families of the passengers from Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH370, as more of them look past their grief and seek legal recourse for the loss of their loved ones.

Mr Mervin Mateo, an associate at the firm, tells The Straits Times that their firm now represents "several victims' families" and has "numerous meetings lined up in China, Malaysia and Indonesia".

Of the 239 people onboard MH370, 153 were China nationals, 50 Malaysians, and seven Indonesians.

The firm, which represents Dr Januari Siregar, the uncle of one of the passengers Firman Chandra Siregar, filed a petition of discovery in an Illinois court on Tuesday, against operator MAS and aircraft maker Boeing.

This would allow the firm to collect information about possible design and manufacturing defects, which might have led to the incident.

Mr Mateo says "the formal complaint will be filed as soon as we have gathered more information and evidence from our experts as to what may have caused the crash", but he did not give an expected timeline.

Ribbeck's lawyers had told reporters in Kuala Lumpur earlier that the focus of the case would be Boeing as they believe the incident was caused by mechanical failures.

Mr Mateo declined to elaborate on how the firm had come to that conclusion but let up that "there are certain reports concerning the 777-200 which led us to believe that there are defects in its design".

Even if there might be reason to suspect foul play, Mr Mateo says that his clients can still file a case against MAS and/or Boeing.

The Montreal convention outlines what is known as special drawing rights - the amount an airline has to pay passengers in compensation for an accident. This is currently worth between US$160,000 (S$202,802) and US$175,000 per person.

In this particular case, Mr Mateo says each passenger's family is expected to demand compensation which would be "in the millions".

"The exact amount of compensation will be determined at the time of the filing of the formal complaint," he adds.

As for what action will be taken in the coming weeks, Mr Mateo says: "We will wait for Boeing and MAS to respond to our petition."