A Chicago law firm’s twin bids for court orders forcing Boeing Co. and Malaysian Airline Systems Bhd. (MAS) to turn over data and documents about missing Flight 370 for a possible lawsuit was thrown out by a judge who threatened to punish the lawyers if they tried such a tactic again.
Malaysian Air Flight 370, a Boeing 777-200ER airliner with 239 people aboard, disappeared on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. The search for the missing plane, now focused on the southern Indian Ocean, is in its fourth week.
Cook County Circuit Judge Kathy M. Flanagan threw out the first of two petitions filed by Ribbeck Law Chartered on March 28 and the second one yesterday.
“Commencing today the court will impose sanctions on the law firm if there are any other unfounded filings,” Flanagan said in yesterday’s ruling.
While seeking information about an accident before filing a lawsuit is allowed in Illinois courts when those who may be at fault aren’t known, the procedure isn’t otherwise permitted, Flanagan said. The rules allow such discovery “for the sole purpose of ascertaining the identity of one who may be liable in damages,” she said.
The Ribbeck firm, the judge said, already knew that because she threw out two-such filings last year, one of them after an Asiana Airlines Inc. jet crashed upon landing at San Francisco International Airport.
“All of those petitions were assigned to this court,” Flanagan said, adding that on each occasion she dismissed them as “having been improperly brought.”
Monica R. Kelly, a Ribbeck Law partner, said in an e-mail she will appeal the judge’s ruling.
“I want to tell you how much damage this does to all of us who like to think of ourselves as experienced firms,” said Gerald Sterns, an Oakland, California, lawyer for air crash victims. “This totally undermines the confidence that families might otherwise have in us.”
The Chicago-based Ribbeck firm in a statement last week called itself the “largest aviation firm in the world.” It has represented clients from 35 countries before U.S. courts, according to its website.
Its first Malaysian Air Flight 370-related petition was filed March 25 in the name of Januari Siregar, who the lawyers said was the father of Firman Chandra Siregar, one of the passengers aboard Flight 370,
Januari Siregar later told Bloomberg News he was the missing man’s uncle. The later petition was filed March 28 for Lee Khim Fatt, who was identified as the husband of flight crew member Foong Wai Yueng.
Kelly said in an e-mail earlier yesterday that if the petitions were unsuccessful, the firm would move ahead with a lawsuit, as it did after the July 6 Asiana crash.
“For us it really has no effect,” Kelly said. “We will of course wait until the wreckage or debris has been identified before we file the complaint.”
The cases are Siregar v. Boeing Co., 14-L-3408, and Fatt v. The Boeing Co., 14-L-3555, Cook County, Illinois, Circuit Court, Law Division (Chicago).