Days after the March 10 crash of a Kenya-bound Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing jet that killed all 157 people on board, strangers began calling or visiting bereaved families, saying they represented US law firms.
They showed up uninvited at memorials and at homes full of weeping relatives.
They cold called. They left brochures. In one case, a grieving husband was offered money for an appointment. One woman offered counselling and another said she was creating an emotional support group, without disclosing they were working for lawyers.
Reuters interviewed 37 relatives of the victims or their representatives and found that 31 complained of inappropriate approaches by those saying they represented US law firms.
In some instances, the behaviour may have been illegal or unethical under US laws and rules barring solicitation and deceptive practices, several legal ethics experts said.
Six firms were particularly aggressive in courting prospective clients after the Boeing plane nosedived into an Ethiopian field: Ribbeck Law Chartered and Global Aviation Law Group (GALG) of Chicago; The Witherspoon Law Group and Ramji Law Group from Texas; and Wheeler & Franks Law Firm PC and Eaves Law Firm of Mississippi.
Witherspoon, Wheeler and Eaves denied any wrongdoing. Ribbeck, GALG and Ramji did not respond to requests for comment.
Ribbeck Law and GALG have jointly filed two lawsuits against Boeing seeking “all damages available under the law” without being specific about the size of the claims. Three suits filed by Ramji have been dismissed. The other firms haven’t filed any suits.
By Thursday, there were 114 cases filed against Boeing in Chicago federal court on behalf of 112 crash victims, according to lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Robert Clifford. More than three dozen law firms are representing them. No trial date has been set.
Boeing has said it is “cooperating fully with the investigating authorities” and said that safety is its highest priority.
It has acknowledged errors in failing to give pilots more information on 737 MAX software involved in a Lion Air crash that killed 189 in Indonesia in October 2018 and the Ethiopian crash five months later, but Boeing has not admitted any fault in how it developed the aircraft. The 737 MAX is currently grounded.
Boeing declined to comment on the lawsuits.