KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A woman who lost her husband on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 sued the airline and the government Thursday at the beginning of an expected rush of lawsuits before a filing deadline next month on the second anniversary of the plane’s disappearance.
The Boeing 777 carrying 239 flew far off course for unknown reasons after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, 2014. A search of the southern Indian Ocean has found no trace of the plane, though a wing part from the aircraft washed ashore on Reunion Island last year.
A global aviation agreement sets a two-year deadline for lawsuits by next-of-kin over air accidents.
Malaysian K.Sri Devi, 32, her two young sons and parents-in-law are seeking 32 million ringgit ($7.6 million) in damages over the alleged wrongful death of S.Puspanathan, due to alleged negligence and breach of contract by the airline and government agencies, lawyer Shailender Bhar said.
The lawsuit also named the immigration department, as well as the civil aviation department and the Malaysian air force, for losing track of the plane.
“They were waiting for some development in the search for the plane but nothing has been forthcoming so far. Everyone is hoping for some answers through the court,” Bhar told The Associated Press.
An Australian-based woman, Jennifer Chong, whose husband Chong Ling Tan was on the flight, filed similar claims in Australia last week, alleging the airline was negligent in failing to ensure passengers’ safety.
Lawyer Arunan Selvaraj, who said he is representing next-of-kin of 15 passengers, expects to file lawsuits next week. He said some families were negotiating for settlements with the airline but the approaching deadline means most are under pressure to file a claim.
“Till today, the only thing they had found was the flaperon. There are no other clues. Many people are still in denial and there are so many theories as to what had happened. Families want justice and the truth,” Arunan said.
A Boeing 777 flaperon was found on an island in the western Indian Ocean in July and confirmed by the Malaysian and French governments to come from the ill-fated flight. Drift modelling has shown that currents could have carried the debris from the southern Indian Ocean to Reunion Island in the timeframe between the flight date and when the part was found.
But no other parts of the plane have been found and the current search is expected to end by June or July.
An international aviation agreement allows each next-of-kin of passengers on board a plane up to $175,000 in compensation, but a plaintiff filing a lawsuit can seek more.
Arunan said next-of-kins, however, face hurdles in filing lawsuits.
The airline holding company, Malaysia Airlines Systems (MAS), was dissolved in a massive restructuring last year and was replaced with a new entity, Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB).
Next-of-kins must first seek consent from the administrator of MAS to sue the airline.
The administrator, Mohammad Faiz Azmi, said in a statement Wednesday he had given consent to 96 next-of-kins and that he had not rejected any requests.
He said 42 collected “full compensation” so far, without giving details.
Arunan, however, said conditions were attached to the consent given to some of his clients, including not naming MAB or any third parties in their lawsuit.
“Why is the administrator protecting third parties? What happens if the civil aviation department or the air force was found to be at fault and we didn’t name them in the suit?” he said.
Some next-of-kins are also concerned that by not naming MAB, they may not receive payment even if they win the suit as MAS may not be able to pay, he added.
Voice 370, a next-of-kin support group, said in a statement this week that all monies, assets and airline business have been transferred to MAB and there may be nothing left in MAS to sue them. It called the move to shield the airline a “despicable act of irresponsibility and cowardice.”