A federal panel will hear arguments next month over whether lawsuits filed in the summer’s Asiana Airlines Inc. crash should be coordinated in multidistrict litigation in San Francisco.
The July 6 crash of Flight 214 while landing at San Francisco International Airport killed three people and injured about 180. Lawsuits filed on behalf of 37 passengers name Asiana and The Boeing Co., which manufactured the 777 aircraft.
Boeing moved on Sept. 24 to coordinate the litigation in the Northern District of California. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has scheduled the cases for its December 5 hearing in Las Vegas.
The flight carried passengers from countries including South Korea, China and the United States. The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the cause.
The lawsuits claim that Asiana’s flight crew was negligent and that, under the 1999 Montreal Convention, foreign passengers who buy tickets in the United States or whose final destination was the United States are entitled to damages. The suits target Boeing for alleged defects in the warning system, which may have failed to alert the pilots of the aircraft’s decreasing speed. Boeing and Asiana have denied the allegations.
In an Oct. 30 filing, Boeing lists 21 lawsuits pending in federal and state courts. About half of those have been consolidated in the Northern District of California before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The other lawsuits have been filed in Cook County, Ill., Circuit Court, and have been removed to the Northern District of Illinois, where Boeing is headquartered in Chicago.
Boeing attorney Bruce Campbell, a partner at Seattle’s Perkins Coie, moved on Sept. 24 to coordinate the litigation; Asiana attorney Frank Silane, a partner in Los Angeles at the New York’s Condon & Forsyth, joined, adding that it was a “virtually certainty that a substantial number of additional lawsuits will be filed.”
The plaintiffs in the California cases — represented by Frank Pitre of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy in Burlingame, Calif., and Elizabeth Cabraser of San Francisco’s Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein —support coordination in San Francisco. But not all the plaintiffs agree.
Attorney Justin Green, who represents the plaintiffs in one of the Cook County cases removed to federal court, said U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber could remand all the Illinois cases on Dec. 12, which would negate the need for multidistrict litigation.
“We don’t think it’s ultimately going to become an MDL because we don’t think Boeing has grounds — it has no federal jurisdiction over our claims,” said Green, a partner at New York’s Kreindler & Kreindler, who claims to represent 70 victims.
Even the plaintiffs in California called Boeing’s move to coordinate the cases premature.
“What Boeing did procedurally was jump the gun,” said Pitre, whose cases have been stayed until the MDL panel rules on coordination. He said the move successfully delayed the litigation. “They tried a procedural advantage in filing for removal and a petition for an MDL without first allowing the motion for remand to be heard.”
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