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article imageAF447: UK lawyers said to offer USA trials to families of victims Special

By Michael Cosgrove     Jul 17, 2009 in World
An aid association for the families of victims who died in the Air France disaster on June 1 is linked to an English law firm which is said to be offering to start trial proceedings in the USA againt American plane part makers for high compensation.
The information is contained in an article in French daily Le Figaro.
The ‘Association for the Truth about flight AF447,’ which is trying to organise support for what it calls ‘more clarity’ from Airbus and Air France on the accident, represents 50 victims’ families and has a profile on Facebook.
Phone calls placed to the Association are answered by a Paris-based firm of French lawyers, Le Cabinet Maier, who are in contact with Stewart Law, a London-based English law firm.
One of Le Cabinet Maier’s head associates, Sylvain Maier, was contacted by Le Figaro and he explained “We are not sharks. We will be offering another phone number shortly to clear up any confusion.” He confirmed that he had put some of its offices and a secretary at the disposition of the association at it’s own cost.
Stewart Law is a company that specialises in air crash related litigation and is said by Le Figaro to have contacted victims soon after the crash to propose its services. They say that its lawyers now receive families in the association’s offices, and is reported to have enticed families by promising them astronomical compensation by transferring their grievances to American courts and attacking US aircraft component suppliers whose products were in the plane involved, an Airbus A330-200.
Inter-state client prospection by lawyers is theoretically illegal in France but it happens often and is rarely sanctioned. Plane crashes often bring lawyers from the USA and Europe together to try and find business. Sylvain Maier says he sees no problem with his firm’s arrangement with Stewart Law “..if the objective is to be more efficient.”
I telephoned the association and was answered by a Cabinet Maier secretary who put me through to Thomas Maier, the other head associate. I asked him for his reactions to the Figaro allegations in order that I may include them in this article.
“My reactions? Sure. We are going to take Le Figaro to court over their article and the allegations contained in it. It is scandalous. The Figaro journalist did not even say he was planning an article.” Asked on what grounds Le Cabinet Maier would file its complaint he answered “We will be claiming for slander and defamation damages."
" Also, certain contacts between Stewart Law and ourselves did not take place in the circumstances they describe and it is certainly both slanderous and defamatory for them to claim that we are involved in dishonest client prospection activities.”
Asked how and why Le Cabinet Maier was featured in the French press, Maier said. “It’s simple. This is an attempt to destabilise our Cabinet’s work for the victims by certain other law firms.” He said he did not know who those firms were.
In France, compensation is calculated according to the revenue of the family concerned but in America many more criteria are taken into account.
Generally speaking, compensation for victims’ families in the United States is said to be situated at around $3 to 5 million. In France, the figure rarely exceeds $1 million. The families of victims in the Air France Concord crash in 2002 received about $1 million each, because the victims and their families were relatively wealthy, whereas victims’ families in the Charm el-Cheike disaster, which involved the loss of a low-cost tourist charter flight in 2004, received much less.
The lawyers’ strategy involves analysing crash data and trying to pinpoint equipment made in America which was either faulty, badly serviced or badly utilised by the crew and which could have contributed to the crash.
The large majority of equipment suppliers to the airline construction industry are American.
If a weather radar is judged to be at fault on an Airbus, it was in all probability an American radar. If there was a problem in an engine, it was American too – made by General Electric. The same is true of many hundreds of pieces of equipment and components.
Air France and Airbus themselves cannot be directly attacked in American courts due to the ‘Montreal Convention,’ which stipulates that an airline can only be taken to court in the country the plane involved took off from or landed in. AF447 left Rio de Janiero in Brazil and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean en route for Paris France.
The Montreal Convention has a fixed scale of compensation for victims to be paid by air carriers, but the amounts are tiny compared to what can be obtained from individual court action.
Fabrice Amedeo, author of the Figaro article, was unavailable for comment.
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