Legal battle lines drawn in Asiana plane crash
New York firm - which handled September 11 claims - to file lawsuits over Chinese victims
Families of the three passengers who died when an Asiana Airlines jet crashed in San Francisco three weeks ago have retained prominent New York law firm Kreindler & Kreindler to represent them as legal manoeuvring over liability and damages heats up.
The law firm, which specialises in aviation law, made a name for itself representing victims in catastrophic air disasters, including the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Partner Jim Kreindler said he would handle the cases of the three Chinese teenagers who died, as well as 12 injury cases involving US, Chinese and Korean residents. He intends to file lawsuits in coming weeks.
Dozens were seriously injured in the crash of Asiana flight 214, which had 307 people aboard when it hit a seawall in front of the runway, lost its tail and caught fire after skidding to a halt.
Kreindler's clients include the family of Ye Mengyuan , who survived the crash but died after being run over by a fire truck. Kreindler sent a letter to the San Francisco Fire Department on Wednesday, requesting documents, videotapes, photos and other evidence related to the department's response to the crash.
Meanwhile, South Korea-based Asiana is marshalling its own legal resources, hiring Frank Silane, a complex litigation specialist at the Los Angeles firm Condon & Forsyth.
Advising a team of about 70 airline employees, Silane helped Asiana co-ordinate payments for medical expenses, hotel rooms and car rental for the dazed survivors.
Some plaintiff lawyers are warning passengers not to let Asiana's post-crash assistance go to their heads.
"My concern is that it's used as a PR opportunity to send the message that we're nice people, you can deal with us, and to start to lay the foundation that they don't need a lawyer," said Frank Pitre, a Californian lawyer who represents two passengers. He has been contacted by about two dozen.
Silane declined to disclose how much Asiana has paid passengers in the aftermath of the crash.
Lawyers cannot contact victims until 45 days after a plane crash. A law requiring the waiting period was enacted in 1996, to prohibit lawyers from immediately descending on crash victims.
But the law does not prevent passengers from contacting lawyers, and many already have. As of last week, Silane said he had been contacted by about seven lawyers who said they would sue. "There is going to be a lot more," Silane said, "and we know that they have multiple passengers."