Several families of Australians killed in the MH17 disaster have retained a high profile American aviation lawyer for a possible lawsuit, which could be launched as early as next year.
Aviation law expert Jerry Skinner has begun collecting information in preparation for legal action on behalf of a number of Australian families who lost loved ones in the downing of MH17.
A total of 298 people died, including 38 Australian residents and citizens, when the plane was shot down over Eastern Ukraine on July 17.
Mr Skinner is based in Milford, Ohio and is a co-associate with Australian legal firm LHD lawyers. He was part of the legal team which negotiated a multi-billion dollar settlement from Libya for families of Lockerbie bombing victims.
He told SBS, he has been retained by a number of Australian families with relatives who died on board MH17, most of them from the Sydney area.
“We are in talks with a number of additional families,” he said.
“In the meantime we are collecting as much information as we can, both about the accident and about the jurisdictions where this could be pursued.”
Mr Skinner said there were a number of possible defendants and jurisdictions for the case.
“There are state defendants which include Malaysia and Ukraine and perhaps Russia,” he said. “And then there are corporate defendants.”
He said legal action could be launched as early as March next year, but key questions around how the plane was brought down, and why it was in Ukrainian airspace need to be answered first.
The lawyer said he wanted to represent as many Australians as possible in the MH17 case.
“Australians are critically interested in getting the answers to their questions and knowing why this happened,” he said. “And I would like to be able to do that for as many of them as I can.”
Mr Skinner said he had litigated for family members of involved in some of the world’s deadliest plane crashes for more than 35 years. But he said nothing he had been involved in compared to MH17.
“When an act is as deliberate and intentional as this one was and where the death was as brutal as this one must have been, you don’t worry about dollars and cents or lost income,” he said.
“You recover as much as you can, because the person who perpetrated this should have to pay.”
He said the $US2.7-billion settlement for families of those who died aboard Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 was intended to make Libya pay. And he said the same should be done for MH17.
“The people who made the choice to deliberately bring this plane down should pay the same type of compensation, and that is as much as possible, to dignify the lives that were lost and the families left behind,” he said.