What is it with Chicago’s Ribbeck Law firm? In news story after news story, this little band of ambulance chasers is revealed to play loose with the facts at best and be deliberate liars at worst and yet the latest from here in Southeast Asia is that they are not humbled by the attention paid to their deficits. If there’s one thing that can be said about the brother/sister act that is Ribbeck Law Chartered, it is this; There is no such thing as bad press.
Making the ludicrous claim to be the biggest aviation law firm in the world, Manuel von Ribbeck, met a few days ago with some of the Indonesian families who lost loved ones on Malaysia Flight 370. Four of them signed retainers with the firm I am told.
Indonesia is the home of Firman Siregar, a 25-year old from Sumatra who was headed to a new job at Schlumberger in China when the plane went missing. The very first legal action filed in Chicago on March 26th, was filed on behalf of Siregar’s parents. Except for one tiny detail; the parents had no idea about the suit. The man named as Siregar’s father in the court document was actually a distant relative. All of this was explained in a letter the family wrote disavowing the suit. The letter was sent to a national news site and the Indonesian government. Since then, Siregar’s real family has met with Ribbeck lawyers and are said to be considering hiring them. Go figure.
One might think that sloppy legal work would raise eyebrows and maybe even embarrass the lawyers. But that would be wrong. Being first to file a case in MH 370 was the goal. The news bounced around the world and anyone googling “MH 370” and “lawyers” or “law suit” would be sure to hit on Ribbeck’s name. That ladies and gentlemen is the goal.
Since just after the accident, von Ribbeck, his sister Monica Kelly and their associates (about which more here) have been working to sign up passenger families, loitering at the hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, where the families were staying.
Sarah Bajc, whose partner Phillip Wood was on the plane, told me a friend in the media recommended she speak to Ribbeck and so she did. The man who called her said the Ribbeck firm was providing free counseling and general legal advice and would she like to meet with them? Bajc declined. In an interview with Gloria Riviera for ABC’s Brian Ross the woman said lawyers chasing for business so soon was “unacceptable”.
She is not alone. This is one reason that in accidents in the United States or involving American carriers, lawyers are prohibited by federal law from approach families for 45 days after the accident. Justin Green, a lawyer with Kreindler & Kreindler (and for whom I worked between 2001-2008) said various state laws prevent lawyers from soliciting at any time. It is also possible that by coming in to Malaysia and offering legal services, the firm is in violation of Malaysian law.
Those pesky details don’t bother the Ribbecks though. Monica Kelly told The New York Times the firm sent six people each to Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. Reports suggest they did the same in San Francisco when Asiana Flight 214 crashed. That accident was on U.S. soil and authorities are said to be investigating that potential violation.
If you are wondering how this little band of lawyers plans to proceed in a case in which evidence is scant, have no fear, they’ll never go to court with those cases anyway. The Ribbecks, who other aviation lawyers claim never to have seen at a deposition or in a courtroom in an aviation case, have a second goal. Take all those signed contracts and sell them off to lawyers in the United States who will do the legal work.
If past is predictive, that means they are likely going to wind up in the office of the Florida law firm of Colson Hicks Eidson, whose president, Lewis Mike Eidson was once the leader of the American Trial Lawyers Association. One would think he’d be above this sort of thing but after the cruise ship Concordia sank off the coast of Italy, a number of people who thought they were clients of Ribbeck wound up dealing with Colson Hicks.
I have been told that Eidson was warned to steer clear of Ribbeck, but looks like he’s decided not to follow that advice. One does have to wonder why anyone would want to be associated with Ribbeck Law Chartered. That goes for lawyers and it certainly goes for prospective clients.
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.