All of a sudden, the name Illinois is gaining currency among relatives of people who died when an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa two months ago.
Lawyers are pulling all stops to ensure every family knows why the western US state is important in their quest for compensation for losing their loved ones.
The lawyers are also asking the relatives not to blindly sign documents as they seek compensation from the Ethiopian carrier, lest they short-circuit hopes of succeeding in Illinois.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, US-based attorney Adam Ramji and Nairobi-based lawyer Chege Njoroge are among those who have so far participated in filing cases in Illinois, the home state of Boeing – the maker of the jet that crashed six minutes after take-off on March 10 and killed all the 157 people on board.
Mr Kang’ata, through his law firm, is suing in collaboration with two other law firms in the US, one in Florida and another in Texas.
So far, Mr Kang’ata’s partnership is prosecuting a case on behalf of Fredrick Karanja Mwangi whose relative, Helen Waithira Karanja, perished in the crash.
In Mr Kang’ata’s view, filing a case in Illinois guarantees higher pay because Ethiopian Airlines “will pay peanuts”.
“It is okay (to get the airline pay) but we are urging litigants to go after Boeing separately,” he told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Ramji, on the other hand, is a Kenyan-born lawyer-cum-doctor who heads the Ramji Law Group, which is based in Texas.
Through vigorous online campaigns, Mr Ramji had by yesterday got the go-ahead to represent at least four families in Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Canada.
“Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Often, there are three choices on where to file a suit: Where the acts or events occurred; where the defendant resides or is headquartered; and where the plaintiff resides. In this case, since Boeing is in Illinois, it makes the most sense to file there. If we file in another place, the case will be ‘removed’ to Illinois,” Mr Ramji said.
For Mr Chege Njoroge, whose law firm Lesinko, Njoroge and Gathogo Advocates has partnered with another firm in the US to file two lawsuits along the same line, suing in Illinois should be the priority of any victim’s family — even as they await compensation from Ethiopian Airlines.
“There is no law saying that once you get the money from the manufacturer, you forfeit claims against the airline irrespective of the fault on their part,” he said.
According to the Montreal Convention that guides aviation accidents in a number of world states, every victim of a plane crash accident is entitled to about $170,000 (Sh17.1 million).
The amount can go as high as Sh25 million when issues like age and profession come into consideration.
This money will be paid by the airline to relatives of the victims and the government has kick-started the process by telling relatives of Kenyans who perished to get letters of administration so they can be recognised as the legal heirs.
While the lawyers who spoke with the Sunday Nation did not ask anyone to turn down the airline’s route, they advocated for a separate suit against the aeroplane maker.
In Mr Ramji’s view, the plane’s insurer is just in business and is likely not to pay out the maximum compensation.
“From a business point of view, they want the victims’ families to quickly sign if they can get them to accept a lesser amount. The only time to sign this type of agreement is when you have got them to agree to give each and every possible compensation available,” he reasoned.
Mr Njoroge said victims’ families should watch out what they sign.
“In the event you are to sign any discharge, your eyes need to be open so that they do not sneak in a clause that may exclude liability of the manufacturer. That process should only be limited to compensation payable by the airline, which is guaranteed by the law,” he said.
Mr Njoroge’s partner firms in the US are also representing families in a similar Boeing crash involving the privately-owned Indonesian carrier Lion Air that occurred on October 29, 2019, claiming 189 lives.
What is fuelling the lawyers’ resolve is last month’s admission by Boeing that a faulty sensor in its anti-stall system played a part in the March 10 aeroplane crash.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said on April 4 that the company regretted the loss of life, adding that new software would be installed on all the grounded planes of the same make to fix the problem.
“It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it, and we know how to do it,” said Mr Muilenburg.
Mr Kang’ata said: “Boeing has admitted its software had an error. This reinforces our case in dramatic ways. We have encountered difficulties in convincing families to join up. Some seem to think what will be paid by Ethiopian Airways is final.”
He added: “We expect each litigant to be paid over Sh1 billion (by Boeing).”
And according to Mr Ramji, the admission of liability will most definitely lead to the process of calculating how much the victims are worth.
“Each victim’s family potentially receives what their value was to their family. If they brought in $10,000 a year, it is evaluated at that level. If they brought in $100,000 a year, it is evaluated at that level. But for the basic human being, outside of income, the values can be quite high. Some studies put it as high as $9.1 million (Sh920 million),” he said.
“If someone is young and making money, then the lifespan would have been longer and therefore, the recovery would be larger. If someone is older and not working, then the recovery is less. To determine these, there must be evidence,” added Mr Ramji.
Among the families going the Illinois route is that of Jonathan Seex who, until his death, was the chief executive of Tamarind Group of Companies.
A press statement issued on Thursday indicated that three personal injury lawyers would prosecute the case.
“The complaint will allege that Boeing failed to properly inform pilots about the dangers and risks presented by its new Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software, and angle-of-attack sensors,” the statement said.
Hearing of the case filed in collaboration with Mr Njoroge’s law firm is expected to start on May 22. He said they have not pleaded any amount to be given out by Boeing, leaving it to the jury to decide.
“We make claims based on what we believe were the wrong bits on parts of Boeing but we do not put a specific amount. We leave such to the jury to decide,” he said, adding that there is a possibility of Boeing negotiating an out-of-court settlement.
The three lawyers also admitted that the cases at the US courts might take time to be concluded but they are worth it.
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Publish date : 2019-05-20 11:42:03