Monday, July 14, 2008

Thai airline to be sued in US courts

Families of victims ask for $400m in payouts


Families of the victims of the One-Two-Go plane crash in Phuket last September are preparing to file more than 70 lawsuits in the United States for compensation of up to US$400 million (13.2 billion baht). The lawsuits name Bangkok-based Orient Thai Airlines and its budget carrier One-Two-Go Airlines as the defendants.

The families have also asked Thai authorities to file criminal charges against Udom Tantiprasongchai, the chief executive and founder of the two carriers.

Ribbeck Law Chartered, a Chicago-based law firm specialising in aviation disasters worldwide, has been authorised by the families of victims and survivors to represent them in claiming compensation for damage caused, from the airlines, the Boeing Company and liable parties.

One-Two-Go's MD-82 jetliner crashed on Sept 16, 2007, in strong winds and heavy rain after attempting to land at Phuket international airport, leaving 89 people dead and 41 others injured.

The plane was manufactured by McDonnell Douglas Corporation, which was taken over by Boeing in 1997.

The budget carrier is facing a string of multi-million-dollar lawsuits brought by the families of victims and survivors in several locations including California, Texas and England.

In Thailand, Ribbeck is helping families who are filing complaints with insurance regulators in London to suspend the licence of One-Two-Go's insurance carrier to underwrite future coverage for airlines.

The basis for the complaint against the insurer was its bad-faith denial of payment of medical bills and compensation, such as burial expenses, to the victims' families, said Manuel von Ribbeck, the founder of the law firm.

In addition, the victims' families are in the process of filing a formal petition with the Thai government and the governments of 29 other countries to revoke the business licences of airlines that have insurance coverage from the same carrier that covered One-Two-Go.

One-Two-Go and its insurance carrier are being represented by Clyde & Co LLP and Beaumont & Son Aviation out of Singapore, said a family member of one of the victims.

''We are being treated as less than human beings by the representatives of the insurance carrier,'' Mr von Ribbeck quoted a family member as saying.

Now in Bangkok to deal with the case, Mr von Ribbeck complained that Thai authorities were taking too long to release a report of their investigation.

He said multiple lawsuits would be filed against all of the potential defendants in the US, adding he was speaking to Thai authorities about criminal prosecution in Thailand.

He said he was confident of winning the cases on behalf of his clients.

A preliminary investigation into the crash initially found pilot error as the cause of the tragedy.

Wuthichai Singhamanee, the deputy director-general of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), said yesterday that Thai authorities would conclude their formal investigation of the crash in the next month.

He said the DCA only last week received reports on the examination of parts of the doomed aircraft by the US National Transportation Safety Board.

Mr Wuthichai said One-Two-Go would be subject to the most severe penalties if found guilty.

''We want to tell the whole world that we are not compromising just because the operator is a Thai firm, as some have claimed,'' he said.

Mr Udom declined to comment in detail and said he would rather let the legal process take its course.

''What [the plaintiffs' law firm] is telling the Thai media is a way to stimulate business for itself as its interest is to make more money for itself,'' he told the Bangkok Post.

One-Two-Go, he said, was not dealing directly with the cases but was working with the law firms representing the insurance companies.

The families of Thai victims and survivors have accepted initial compensation of $150,000 each

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