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Passengers Sue Asiana Airlines Over San Francisco Crash

Source: Dow Jones

Posted on 19 Jul 2013 by Neilson

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ASIANA crash lawsuitTwo passengers aboard the Asiana Airlines  flight that crashed while landing in San Francisco have sued the carrier, claiming they suffered "extreme and catastrophic injuries and emotional distress" as a result of the accident.

The suit is believed to be the first following the July 6 crash. A lawyer for Asiana didn't respond to a request for comment.

Asiana flight 214 hit a sea wall in front of a runway at San Francisco International Airport and skidded to a stop before catching fire. Three passengers died and dozens more were injured.

In their initial probe, National Transportation Safety Board investigators didn't find evidence of equipment malfunctions, agency Chairman Deborah Hersman said last week. The agency was looking into whether the pilots had received adequate training, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Asiana officials have repeatedly said the pilots were both highly experienced and the airline's training programs meet all international and South Korean requirements.

The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco federal court by Younga Jun Machorro and her son, Benjamin Hyo-Ik Machorro. Also joining the suit was Hector Machorro, the husband of Younga and father of Benjamin, who wasn't aboard the flight. He claims losses stemming from his wife's injuries.

"The conduct of Asiana's flight crew was egregiously reckless and negligent," said Michael Verna of Bowles & Verna LLP, the Walnut Creek, Calif., lawyers for the plaintiffs. "These pilots were unable to do the most basic task-- land on a runway in the middle of a clear day with no wind."

Mr. Verna said that both Ms. Machorro and her son were treated at San Francisco General Hospital after the crash. X- rays revealed no broken bones, said Mr. Verna, but both suffered injuries to their backs and were still undergoing treatment.

Under an international treaty, Asiana, of South Korea, is liable for up to $150,000 in damages per injured passenger-- damages that likely would be paid by the airline's insurers, legal experts said. Passengers might recover more if they can show the airline was at fault for the crash, as the Machorros allege.

The crash "occurred due to the gross negligence and recklessness of the Asiana flight crew on Flight 214," reads the complaint, "in woeful violation of numerous international and United States airline industry standards and established flight rules."

The Montreal Convention allows victims of the crash to sue Asiana in U.S. courts if they are permanent U.S. residents, purchased tickets in the U.S. or were flying into the U.S. as a final destination. All three plaintiffs are U.S. citizens, according to the suit.

Litigation over air disasters typically takes months or longer to unfold. Often, lawsuits are consolidated and handled by a single federal judge, a process known as multidistrict litigation.

Ladd Sanger, an aviation lawyer and commercially rated pilot in Dallas, said this would likely happen to any suits related to the Asiana incident. "We're going to see a lot of these filed in the weeks to come," he said. "This is probably the first of many."

The crash has stoked a long-running debate over how aggressively plaintiff attorneys are permitted to seek out clients after an aviation tragedy.

Federal law mandates what is effectively a 45-day moratorium, during which lawyers are barred from directly soliciting to represent commercial air-crash victims or their families. The restrictions often aren't enforced effectively, and veteran lawyers are replete with stories about how the rules have been skirted.

But in the case of the Asiana crash, federal accident investigators and local law-enforcement appear to have tried particularly hard to make lawyers toe the line.

James Kreindler, a veteran aviation litigator with the New York law firm Kreindler and Kreindler LLP, said he has never experienced such a show of force by local police to keep certain lawyers from entering the hotel where many family members were staying after the Asiana crash.

"I've never seen such tight controls," he said. "You couldn't get through the front door unless you had a prearranged meeting with a specific hotel guest."

Mr. Kreindler said he supports such restrictions because it prevents lawyers from trying to land clients with unfounded or exaggerated promises.

The NTSB also stepped up its game. Several days after the crash, the agency's general counsel's office sent out a mass email to members of the San Francisco Bar Association about the 45-day rule.

"We are closely following the activities of attorneys," the message said, "and will immediately notify state bar ethics officials and other appropriate authorities if impermissible activity is suspected."

A spokeswoman for the NTSB said "it is typical for local law enforcement to secure the family center," or hotel where family members are housed.