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'Why were they flying?' Law firms recruit relatives of Iran plane crash victims to sue airline

- Reuters

'This is the worst part of the job, I know it makes us look like vultures. ... But here’s the reality - these families deserve compensation'

As relatives grieve the loss of more than 100 Canadian-bound passengers killed in the Iran plane crash, two law firms have joined forces to promote filing civil suits over the tragedy.

Toronto’s Howie Sacks & Henry has launched a web page inviting loved ones to retain them for possible legal action, while a Farsi-speaking articling student has begun reaching out to the extended families of victims.

Some have already indicated an interest in suing, said Paul Miller, the lawyer heading the work.

Tehran admitted it accidentally shot down flight 752 with a surface-to-air missile after the plane had just left Tehran airport on route to Kyiv.

But the target of potential civil suits would be the jet’s operator, Ukraine International Airlines, not Iran, said Miller. It has no assets to speak of in Canada, the lawyer noted.

He argues the company is liable because it chose to fly out of Tehran just a few hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. military bases in neighbouring Iraq, and in the midst of fever-pitch tensions with the Americans.

“The Iranians had no idea at that point if the Americans were going to retaliate quickly. Why would any airline fly?” said the lawyer. “That plane should never have taken off.”

Miller, who represented passengers from the 2005 Air France crash-landing in Toronto and other air mishaps, is working with Vancouver lawyer Joe Fiorante, a specialist in aviation-related personal-injury litigation.

But the Toronto lawyer said the extraordinary circumstances and Iran’s lack of diplomatic relations with Canada would make this case unlike any he’s handled.

He admitted that some will see the firms’ actions as exploitive, but said it’s important that victim families who want to sue use lawyers with experience in the area.

“This is the worst part of the job, I know it makes us look like vultures. That’s why we’re not going out to vigils and handing out cards, and we’re not going out and organizing a meeting,” said Miller. “I get the idea that it’s ambulance chasing. But here’s the reality – these families deserve compensation.”

You want justice at the end of the day

The relative of one of the victims, who asked not to be named to avoid repercussions for family in Iran, said it’s actually reassuring that lawyers are primed to work on the case.

“You want justice at the end of the day, for sure,” said the Toronto resident.

UIA officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

But airline executives told a press briefing Saturday that flight PS752 was one of many that left Tehran early last Wednesday morning, absent any official word that doing so could be hazardous.

“When the airplane was taking off in Tehran … we had no information about any looming threat,” said CEO Evgeniy Dykhne. “So we made no decision (to ground the plane), because we had no reason for that. No civil aviation agency issued any warnings.”

By contrast, the Pakistani aviation authority ordered civilian planes not to fly in its airspace during conflict between Pakistan and India last year, he said. Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter jet last February as hostilities broke out over hotly contested Kashmir.

Miller noted that Canada will likely negotiate with Iran directly for compensation.

Victims’ loved ones can still sue the airline separate from that, he said. Under the international Montreal Convention, carriers are obliged to pay up to about $230,000 for the death of a passenger in an accident, but civil courts can award more.

The most significant damages would likely be for loss of income, as many of the victims were in advanced post-secondary programs or already working as professionals of various kinds, with high earning potential, said Miller. At least some of those young people were planning to help support their parents with that income, or even sponsor them as family-class immigrants to Canada, he said.

“And now that can never happen, and that’s a shame.”

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