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Sat, Jan 20, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Lawyers preparing civil actions against SIA

FLIGHT SQ006 CRASH A US law firm that represents over 30 victims of the crash will file a suit soon, contending that the settlement offered by the airline is insufficient

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

A US law firm representing over 30 victims of the Oct. 31 Singapore Airlines (SIA) crash plans to file civil suits against the airline on behalf of their Taiwan clients in the next two weeks.

Singapore Airlines' flight SQ006 mistakenly took off on a closed runway at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport, smashing into construction equipment. The crash killed 83 of the 179 on board.

In an interview with the Taipei Times this week, attorneys from the Nolan Law Group said they were also cooperating with prosecutors in Taiwan to press for criminal charges against the pilots of the flight.

The lawyers said the current amount of compensation the airline is offering is inadequate. The airline has offered US$400,000 for each victim.

"I don't know any of the victims that are doing well," Don Nolan, the lawyer in charge of the legal action against the airline, told the Taipei Times.

Nolan said several successful businessmen who survived the crash have become jobless because they can no longer get on an airplane after the traumatic experience.

"One lady can't even take any transportation for fear of having another accident," said Manuel Ribbeck, Nolan's partner.

The lawyers said the lawsuits will be filed in the US.

The law firm said they are looking at all avenues to explore who is ultimately responsible for the crash. These include factors that the airline may have instituted to cut costs and increase efficiency, perhaps at the expense of certain safety details.

The firm has also filed complaints from survivors about the poor performance of the airline in handling the situation immediately after the crash.

The lawyers said members of the cabin crew that they interviewed complained about the flight crew, hinting that they think the lack of participation by the pilots in the rescue operation is worth exploring as a determining factor that contributed to the death toll.

The law firm said victims have also complained about the incompetence of the air crew during the moments after the crash, citing their lack of English communication skills as an example.

On the other hand, the lawyers are also exploring what responsibilities, if any, fall to the pilots.

"We all know that the pilot erred. Our experience tells us not to stop looking at the pilot," Nolan said.

"We will also continue to gather evidence and forward it to the prosecutors' office in Taipei to help with investigation into the role of the pilots," Ribbeck said.

Ribbeck also accused Taiwan's media of attempting to absolve the airline and the pilots of criminal liability so as not to jeopardize the future advertising revenue that the media might receive from the airline.

International aviation safety investigators and aviation associations, however, have argued that any criminal liability of the pilots would hamper subsequent inquiries if pilots felt pressured by possible prosecution.

They believe that information from pilots is critical to understanding the causes of an accident. Ensuring access to such information is crucial in preventing future tragedies.

"Lawyers encourage victims to target the pilots simply for their own profit," criticized Stuart Matthews, president of the US-based Flight Safety Foundation. "They want more rewards from winning the lawsuits," he said.

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