Families of air crash victims say they are being pressured to withdraw their case22 Nepalis were killed when US-Bangla flight BS 211 from Dhaka crashed while landing at Kathmandu airport.
Families of the US-Bangla Airlines crash victims have charged that the Nepali law firm hired by the Bangladeshi carrier has been pressurising them to withdraw their lawsuit, saying that it was against their fundamental right to a 'fair trial' and the 'independent judiciary’ system.
On March 12, 2018, a scheduled US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu crashed on landing at Tribhuvan International Airport, killing 51 passengers including 22 Nepalis. There were 71 people, including four crew members, aboard the 76-seater Bombardier.
The families of seven of the deceased passengers—MBBS students Ashna Shakya, Anjila Shrestha, Meeli Maharjan, Neega Maharjan, Princy Dhami, Sanjaya Maharjan and Shreya Jha—filed the suit in Kathmandu District Court on July 31 for unlimited compensation citing wrongful death, nearly a year and a half after the disaster.
“The hearing was set for November 6. But we postponed it after the law firm—Pradhan & Associates—emailed the plaintiffs' lawyer Amrit Kharel stating that ‘the report prepared by Nepal’s Accident Investigation Commission was not admissible as evidence as per various Nepali statutes’,” said Bidhur Man Shrestha, father of Anjila.
The commission released its report in January 2019, concluding that the captain of Flight BS 211 was 'stressed and emotionally disturbed'. Evidence confirmed that the captain was mentally unstable and unfit to fly.
A copy of the email dated November 1 seen by the Post shows that Pradhan & Associates already knew that the court proceeding slated for November 6 would be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
“How did lawyer Devendra Pradhan of Pradhan & Associates know that the lawsuit would be dismissed five days in advance? It’s against the fundamental right to a fair trial and independent judiciary system,” said Kharel at a press meet organised by the victims’ families on Tuesday. “The families of the victims have the right to file a lawsuit, and it’s their fundamental right.”
The email says that the plaintiffs have relied on claims of 'gross negligence' and 'willful misconduct' under Article 25 of the Warsaw Convention 1929 which is not applicable to these lawsuits.
“We prepared to raise these issues very strongly as well as other issues before the court to seek dismissal of these lawsuits,” the email said. “It is our belief that plaintiffs can still avoid the unfavorable situation. US-Bangla wishes to extend plaintiffs a full and final settlement out of the court on the terms offered to them previously in order to avoid lengthy litigation which definitely will take several years.”
The email ended with the words: “Please judge your action accordingly. We are more than happy to discuss this matter further.”
An advocate at Pradhan & Associates refused to comment on the issue as he was not authorised to speak on behalf of their clients, US-Bangla Airlines.
The families of the seven medical students who died in the crash have sued the airline for $19.09 million. The lawsuit was filed based on the report of the Nepal government's Accident Investigation Commission which concluded that the crash and 'wrongful death' occurred due to 'willful misconduct' and 'gross negligence' of the airline, said Kharel.
Shrestha told the press meet that they had knocked on the court’s door after the airline refused to pay reasonable compensation. “The law firm had offered $50,000 per person. They have been frequently pressurising us to take the compensation amount that they have fixed.” The families of the victims have already been given $20,000 as advance payment.
The families of the 15 other Nepali victims and a Bangladeshi victim have also been seeking legal remedy to get their rightful compensation separately by hiring another law firm in Kathmandu.
US-Bangla Airlines took insurance coverage of $107 million through two local insurance companies—Sena Kalyan Insurance Company and Sadharan Bima Corporation—consisting of $7 million for the aircraft and $100 million for passenger liabilities.